Chinese tech billionaire Richard Liu settles Minnesota sexual assault case

HONG KONG — Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Inc.,

settled a lawsuit filed against him by a former student at the University of Minnesota, ending a case involving an incident that turned the spotlight on alleged sexual abuse in China.

The settlement agreement came Saturday, two days before a jury in Minneapolis was set to hear testimony to determine whether Mr. Liu raped the student, Jingyao Liu, in 2018. Opening statements were scheduled for Monday. Both Mr. Liu, who is in his 40s, and Ms. Liu, now 25, were expected to testify in the civil trial.

Around noon on Sunday in China, released a statement it described as a joint statement by the parties, saying they had agreed to settle the lawsuit and “set aside their differences.” The statement did not specify whether it covered all three parties to the lawsuit — Mr. Liu, Ms. Liu and representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on which parties had issued the statement. Ms. Liu’s representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

“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 statement said. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Mr. Liu released a separate statement in his own name, in which he apologized and expressed the hope that his life and work could return to normal as soon as possible. In the statement, Mr. Liu directly addressed his wife, Zhang Zetian, who is a prominent figure on Chinese social media, thanking her for her support and tolerance. “Without her, I could not have survived to this day,” Mr Liu wrote. “I wish everyone a better tomorrow!”

In August 2018, Ms. Liu alleged that Mr. Liu, a technology billionaire who is among China’s most prominent businessmen, groped her while escorting her home and raped her in her apartment after they both attended a group dinner full of alcohol in a restaurant in Minneapolis. The two are unrelated.

At the time, Mr. Liu was attending an executive program at the University of Minnesota while Ms. Liu, an undergraduate student, was volunteering for the program. Mr. Liu’s company was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Mr. Liu was arrested on the evening of August 31, 2018, in Minneapolis on suspicion of rape. The next day he was released. Mr Liu has denied any wrongdoing and maintains the sex was consensual.

Ms. Liu filed a civil suit after Minneapolis prosecutors in 2018 declined to criminally charge Mr. Liu, citing insufficient evidence.

If Ms. Liu had prevailed in persuading the jury, she could have been awarded both compensatory damages covering expenses such as medical bills and counseling services, as well as punitive damages, which are designed to punish a defendant for gross wrongdoing.

Mr. Liu had largely withdrawn from public view. He stepped down from his day-to-day involvement with the e-commerce giant late last year and, in April this year, Mr Liu stepped down as chief executive.

Write to Rebecca Feng at [email protected]

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