Chinese billionaire Richard Liu settles rape charges in US

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Chinese billionaire and JD.com founder Richard Liu has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former University of Minnesota student who claimed he raped her in her Minneapolis apartment after a night of dinner and drinks with wealthy Chinese executives in 2018. Lawyers for both sides were announced late Saturday.

The settlement amount was not disclosed.

Richard Liu, who stepped down as CEO of Beijing-based e-commerce company JD.com this year amid increased government scrutiny of China’s technology industry, has denied raping the woman, Jingyao Liu, and prosecutors have not ever filed criminal charges. A joint statement from lawyers for both sides called the meeting a “misunderstanding.”

“The incident between Ms. Jingyao Liu and Mr. Richard Liu in Minnesota in 2018 led to a misunderstanding that drew public attention and caused deep suffering to the parties and their families,” the joint statement said. “Today, the parties have agreed to set aside their differences and settle their litigation in order 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. On Friday, a jury of seven men and five women was selected to hear the case.

FILE - This 2018 file photo provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office shows Chinese billionaire Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu, the founder of Beijing-based e-commerce website JD.com.  The Chinese billionaire and one of the world's richest men goes on trial in Minneapolis starting Thursday, September 29, 2022, to defend himself against accusations that he raped a former University of Minnesota student after a night of dinner and drinks in 2018.  (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
FILE – This 2018 file photo provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office shows Chinese billionaire Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu, the founder of Beijing-based e-commerce website JD.com. The Chinese billionaire and one of the world’s richest men goes on trial in Minneapolis starting Thursday, September 29, 2022, to defend himself against accusations that he raped a former University of Minnesota student after a night of dinner and drinks in 2018. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Richard Liu is a celebrity in China, part of a generation of entrepreneurs who built the country’s Internet, e-commerce, mobile phone and other technology industries since the late 1990s. Forbes estimated his fortune at 10, $9 billion on Saturday.

Jingyao Liu alleges the attack occurred in 2018 while Richard Liu was in Minneapolis for a week-long stay at the University of Minnesota China’s Ph.D. program for high-level executives in China.

Jingyao Liu, a Chinese citizen, was at the university on a student visa and volunteered in the program at the time. The Associated Press does not generally name people who allege sexual assault, but Jingyao Liu has agreed to be publicly identified.

Jingyao Liu was 21 and Richard Liu was in his 40s at the time, the lawsuit said. They are not related.

Richard Liu, also known as Liu Qiangdong, was arrested on suspicion of felony rape in August 2018, but prosecutors said the case had “deep evidentiary problems” and declined to pursue criminal charges.

Jingyao Liu sued Richard Liu and JD.com in 2019, alleging sexual assault and battery, along with false imprisonment.

The case drew attention at a time when the #MeToo movement was gaining traction in China. Supporters and opponents of Richard Liu conducted 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 should withdraw from classes in the fall of 2018 and seek counseling and therapy. Her lawyer said she has since graduated but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He sought damages as well as punishment from Richard Liu.

Her lawsuit said she was seeking more than $50,000, a standard amount that must be listed in Minnesota if the plaintiff intends to seek more. He was expected to ask the jury to award much 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 called Jingyao Liu at Richard Liu’s request.

She felt compelled to drink as powerful men toasted her and Richard Lew said it would disgrace him if she didn’t join, her lawsuit claimed.

According to text messages reviewed by The Associated Press and Jingyao Liu’s interviews with police, she said that after dinner Richard Liu pulled her into a limousine and beat her despite her protests. She said he raped her in her apartment. At one point, she texted a friend: “I begged him not to. But he didn’t listen.”

Her friend called the police, who went to her apartment. Jingyao Liu told a police officer, “I was raped, but not this kind of rape,” according to police. When asked to explain, she changed the subject and said that Richard Liu was famous and feared. 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 occurred.” In a later interview with an investigator, Richard Liu said the sex was consensual and the woman “really enjoyed the whole process.”

Jingyao Liu told a police sergeant she wanted to speak to Richard Liu’s lawyer and threatened to go to the media if she didn’t, according to police. His former lawyer Richard Liu recorded the call, in which Jingyao Liu said she did not want the case to be published in the newspaper and “I just need money for payment and an apology and that’s it.”

The recording of the phone call was expected to be played as evidence at the trial. Surveillance videos from the restaurant, the outside of the restaurant and the rooms of the woman’s apartment complex were also expected to be played for jurors.

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