Chinese billionaire and JD.com founder Richard Liu agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a University of Minnesota alumnus who claimed he sexually assaulted her in her Minneapolis apartment in 2018 after dating wealthy men Chinese executives, lawyers for both sides, had eaten and drunk late Saturday announced.
A settlement amount was not disclosed.
Richard Liu, who resigned as CEO of Beijing-based e-commerce company JD.com this year after China’s tech industry came under increasing government control, has denied the rape of Ms Jingyao Liu and prosecutors have never filed criminal charges. A joint statement by attorneys from both sides called the encounter “a misunderstanding.”
“The 2018 incident between Ms. Jingyao Liu and Mr. Richard Liu in Minnesota resulted in a misunderstanding that has drawn significant public attention and caused deep distress to the parties and their families,” the joint statement said. “Today, the parties have agreed to settle their differences and settle their litigation to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit.”
The settlement was announced just two days before the civil trial began Monday in a Minneapolis courtroom. A jury of seven men and five women was selected on Friday to hear the case.
Richard Liu is a celebrity in China, part of a generation of entrepreneurs who have shaped the country’s internet, e-commerce, mobile phone and other technology industries since the late 1990s. Forbes estimated his net worth at $10.9 billion on Saturday.
The student was 21 years old at the time of the alleged attack
Jingyao Liu alleges the attack occurred in 2018 while Richard Liu was in Minneapolis for a week-long residency at the University of Minnesota’s China Doctor of Business Administration program, which caters to senior executives in China.
The woman, a Chinese citizen, was at the university on a student visa and was a volunteer in the program at the time. The Associated Press does not generally name individuals making allegations of sexual assault, but Jingyao Liu has agreed to be publicly identified.
She was 21 and Richard Liu was in his 40s at the time, the lawsuit says. You are not related.
Richard Liu, also known as Liu Qiangdong, was arrested in August 2018 on suspicion of rape, but prosecutors said the case had “profound evidence problems” and declined to file criminal charges.
Jingyao Liu sued Richard Liu and JD.com in 2019 for sexual assault and assault and false imprisonment.
Case widespread in China
The case drew widespread attention at a time when the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum in China. Richard Liu’s supporters and opponents ran aggressive PR campaigns on Chinese social media; Censors shut down some accounts supporting Jingyao Liu for “violating regulations.”
Jingyao Liu said in her lawsuit that she had to withdraw from classes in the fall of 2018 and seek counseling and treatment. Her attorney said she has since graduated but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She sought both compensatory and punitive damages from Richard Liu.
Her lawsuit says she is seeking more than $50,000, a standard figure that Minnesota must list if a plaintiff intends to seek a higher amount. She should ask a jury to award a lot more.
On the night of the alleged attack, according to the lawsuit, Richard Liu and other executives went to a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis, and one of the men invited Jingyao Liu at Richard Liu’s request.
Forced to drink, the lawsuit claimed
She felt compelled to drink as the powerful men toasted her, and Richard Liu said she would dishonor him if she didn’t cooperate, her lawsuit claimed.
According to Jingyao Liu’s text messages and police interviews verified by The Associated Press, she said Richard Liu pulled her into a limousine after dinner and groped her despite her protests. She said he raped her in her apartment. At one point, she wrote to a friend: “I begged him not to do it. But he wasn’t listening.”
Her friend notified the police, who went to her apartment. Jingyao Liu told an officer, “I was raped, but not this kind of rape,” police said. When asked for an explanation, she changed the subject and said that Richard Liu was famous and that she was scared. She told the officer the sex was “spontaneous” and she didn’t want the police involved.
Police said they released Richard Liu because “it was unclear whether a crime had actually taken place.” In a later interview with an investigator, Richard Liu said the sex was consensual and that the woman “really enjoyed the whole process.”
Jingyao Liu told a police officer that she wanted to speak to Richard Liu’s lawyer and threatened to go to the media if she didn’t, police said. 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 money and I apologize and that’s all.”
A recording of the phone call was expected to be played as evidence at trial. The jury was also scheduled to be shown surveillance footage of the restaurant, the restaurant’s exterior, and the hallways of the woman’s apartment complex.