BEIJING, March 16 (Reuters) - Baidu Inc said on
Thursday it fired the head of its Nuomi group-buying service
over ethics violations, at a time when the internet giant is
looking to retool its sluggish search business and streamline
loss-making units including Nuomi.
Zeng Liang profited personally from deals with client
representatives during his time at the company, Baidu said in a
statement on Thursday, adding Zeng has admitted to the ethical
violations and has repaid the company for related losses.
Reuters was unable to reach Zeng for comment on Thursday.
Zeng is the second high-ranking Baidu executive to be ousted
in five months. Li Mingyuan, a rising star in the firm who was
widely seen as a potential successor to CEO Robin Li, resigned
in November after a company probe discovered serious conflicts
Zeng will be replaced by senior vice president Xiang
Hailong, who will work on integrating the firm's artificial
intelligence technology to improve the value of existing Nuomi
services, Baidu said.
Zeng's exit comes as the company is retreating from
loss-making ventures outside of search and channeling resources
into its autonomous driving and artificial intelligence units.
In mid-2015, when appetite for China's online-to-offline
services hit a peak, Baidu said it would invest 20 billion yuan
($2.90 billion) over three years in Nuomi, an online platform
that offers discounted group-buying services for offline items,
including movie tickets and restaurant deals.
Months later, two of Nuomi's top competitors in the space,
backed by internet giants Alibaba Group Holding and
Tencent Holdings, merged to form Meituan Dianping,
taking a lion's share of the market.
($1 = 6.8970 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Biju Dwarakanath)