BEIJING (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 of interest.


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)