Chinese billionaire and JD.com founder Richard Liu agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former University of Minnesota student who alleged he raped her in her Minneapolis apartment after a night of dinner and drinks with wealthy Chinese executives in 2018, attorneys for both sides announced late Saturday. A settlement amount was not disclosed.
Richard Liu, the CEO of Beijing-based e-commerce company JD.com who stepped down this year amid increased government scrutiny of China’s technology industry, has denied raping the woman, Jingyao Liu, and prosecutors have never filed criminal charges. Both sides’ attorneys issued a joint statement calling the incident “a misunderstanding.”
“The incident between Ms. Jingyao Liu and Mr. Richard Liu in Minnesota in 2018 resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and brought profound suffering to the parties and their families,” the joint statement said. “Today, the parties agreed to set aside their differences, and settle their legal dispute in order to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit.”
The agreement was announced just two days before the civil trial was scheduled to begin in a Minneapolis courtroom on Monday. The case was assigned to a jury of seven men and five women on Friday.
Richard Liu is a celebrity in China, having been a part of the generation of entrepreneurs who built the country’s internet, e-commerce, mobile phone, and other technology industries since the late 1990s. On Saturday, Forbes estimated his fortune to be $10.9 billion.
Jingyao Liu claims the attack occurred in 2018 while Richard Liu was in Minneapolis for a weeklong residency in the University of Minnesota’s doctor of business administration China programme, which is aimed at high-level Chinese executives.
Jingyao Liu, a Chinese citizen, was a volunteer in the programme at the time and was on a student visa at the university. The Associated Press generally does not identify people accused of se*ual assault, but Jingyao Liu has agreed to be identified publicly.
Jingyao Liu was 21 and Richard Liu was in his mid-40s at the time, the lawsuit said. They are not related.
Richard Liu, also known as Liu Qiangdong, was arrested in August 2018 on suspicion of felony rape, but prosecutors said the case had “profound evidentiary problems” and declined to press charges.
Jingyao Liu sued Richard Liu and JD.com in 2019, alleging se*ual assault and battery, along with false imprisonment.
The case received widespread attention at a time when China’s #MeToo movement was gaining traction. Censors shut down some accounts that supported Jingyao Liu for “violating regulations,” according to supporters and opponents of Richard Liu on Chinese social media.
Jingyao Liu claimed in her lawsuit that she had to drop out of classes in the fall of 2018 in order to seek counselling and treatment. Her lawyer stated that she has since graduated but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Richard Liu was sued for both compensatory and punitive damages.
Her lawsuit said she was seeking more than $50,000, a standard figure that must be listed in Minnesota if a plaintiff intends to seek any larger amount. She was expected to ask a jury to award much more.
According to the lawsuit, Richard Liu and other executives went to a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis on the night of the alleged attack, and one of the men invited Jingyao Liu at Richard Liu’s request.
She felt coerced to drink as the powerful men toasted her, and Richard Liu said she would dishonor him if she did not join in, her lawsuit claimed.
According to text messages obtained by The Associated Press and Jingyao Liu’s police interviews, she claimed that after the dinner, Richard Liu dragged her into a limousine and groped her despite her protests. He raped her in her apartment, she claimed. “I begged him don’t,” she texted a friend at one point. But he didn’t pay attention.”
Her friend called the cops, who arrived at her apartment. According to police, Jingyao Liu told one officer, “I was raped, but not that kind of rape.” When asked to elaborate, she changed the subject and stated that Richard Liu was famous and that she was afraid of him. She told the officer that the se* was “random” and that she did not want the police involved.
Police said they released Richard Liu because “it was unclear if a crime had actually taken place.” In a later interview with an investigator, Richard Liu said the se* was consensual and the woman “enjoyed the whole process very much.”
Jingyao Liu told a police sergeant that she wanted to talk with Richard Liu’s attorney and threatened to go to the media if she did not, according to police. Richard Liu’s former attorney recorded the phone call, in which Jingyao Liu said she didn’t want the case to be in the newspaper and “I just need payment money and apologize and that’s all.”
A recording of the phone call was expected to be played in court as evidence. Surveillance footage from the restaurant, the restaurant’s exterior, and the hallways of the woman’s apartment complex were also set to be shown to jurors.
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