- Richard Liu, the billionaire founder of China’s JD.com and one of the richest men in China, is facing a rape accusation in a civil court from a University of Minnesota college student.
- He denies the allegations.
- Liu was arrested last summer but was released shortly after. Minneapolis prosecutors also decided not to launch criminal charges against Liu last December, citing insufficient evidence.
- But in April, the student Liu Jingyao filed a civil lawsuit against the tech CEO detailing the alleged rape, and a mysterious social media account leaked videos from the night of the alleged incident.
- JD.com’s stock has reacted swiftly to each twist and turn of the saga.
- Here’s everything we know about the allegation and lawsuit.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Richard Liu, the billionaire founder and CEO of JD.com, the Chinese e-commerce giant, faces a rape accusation in civil court from a college student in Minneapolis. The case has roiled his company’s share price, called into question his squeaky-clean reputation, and led him to miss numerous high profile gatherings of China’s business elite.
Liu is accused of assaulting Liu Jingyao, then a 21-year-old undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, while he was attending a business program there last summer.
He was arrested on the night of the alleged incident, but was released the next day and permitted to fly home. State prosecutors also dropped charges against him, citing insufficient evidence, last December. As far as the criminal justice system is concerned, Liu is free to go about his business as before.
Representatives of Liu and JD.com have repeatedly denied the sexual allegations, and vowed to fight them.
But the saga didn’t end there. Last month, Liu Jingyao filed a civil lawsuit against the tech CEO, accusing him of plying her with so much alcohol that she couldn’t walk properly, assaulting her in a company limousine, and then raping her in her apartment.
A week later, a mysterious Weibo account uploaded surveillance footage of the two drinking at dinner and going home together. Both sides say the clips vindicate their position.
Scroll down for a full timeline of the case.
This is Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu. The 46-year-old is the founder and CEO of JD.com, the biggest e-commerce company in China. As of May 2019, he has a net worth of $6.2 billion and is the 30th-richest person in China.
He was born in 1973 to a poor family in Suqian, Jiangsu, where his family often ate sweet potatoes and corn as dinner because they couldn’t afford meat, The New York Times reported.
He first established the company as a small electronics stall in Beijing in 1998, but closed it six years later to focus on online retailing.
The company listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in May 2014.
He is the 272nd-richest person in the world, according to Forbes.
Source: Forbes, JD.com
Over the years he gained a reputation as a workaholic and a family man. He’s married to Zhang Zetian, the 25-year-old youngest female billionaire in China, with whom he has one daughter.
He has said that he often works 16-hour days because he doesn’t like relaxing too much, Reuters reported. Once a year, he also wears a JD.com messengers’ uniform to deliver packages himself.
“For my parents I want to be a good son, for my wife a good husband, and for my daughter I want to be a good father,” he said this January, according to Reuters.
“I hope that one day when I retire that my workers will all be able to say: ‘He was a good guy,'” he added.
Read more: The fabulous life of Zhang Zetian, the youngest female billionaire in China
In August 2018, he was arrested in Minneapolis following a rape accusation. He was released the next day and he returned home to China shortly after.
He had been in town at the time to attend a business administration course at the University of Minnesota, a program attended by many foreign CEOs.
JD.com’s stock dropped 4% after the arrest and allegation were made public. Liu’s standing in China’s rich list also plummeted from 16 to 30.
Read more: Investors betting against JD.com made $153 million after the company’s CEO was accused of sexual misconduct
Chinese social media users also “obsessed” over the case, with many of them learning about the American legal system — like what mug shots are — to follow along with the case, The New York Times reported.
That didn’t end the media scrutiny of the incident. In September 2018, Reuters reported that the accuser sent WeChat messages to her friends after the alleged incident saying that the CEO pressured her into drinking and forced her into sex.
According to Reuters, she described the alleged forced drinking as “a trap.” She also discussed Liu’s powerful position in China, saying: “You underestimate his power.”
Though the report didn’t name the accuser, it identified her as a student from China attending the University of Minnesota.
Jill Brisbois, Liu’s lawyer in Minneapolis, told Reuters that the “allegations are inconsistent with evidence that we hope will be disclosed to the public once the case is closed.”
Two months later, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a long account of the night, including explicit details of the alleged rape. The newspaper also identified the accuser as a 21-year-old college student, but did not name her. (Warning: Graphic details below.)
Here’s what the Star Tribune said:
“Inside the apartment, she told police, he pulled off her sweater over her protests. She said that Liu told her she could be just like Wendi Deng, the Chinese-born ex-wife of Australian media executive Rupert Murdoch.
“‘I told him “no” several times,’ she told police. She also told police that he tried to pull off her skirt and bra, held her arms and tried to throw her onto her bed.
“‘We were battling against each other on the bed and finally I escaped from him and went back to the living room and put the bra back on again,’ she said in the interview. ‘Finally, he just threw me onto the bed. He was on me. He was heavy. I tried to push him away. But he was on top of me … and then he raped me.'”
Brisbois, the tech CEO’s lawyer, told Business Insider that her client “maintains his innocence” and called the Star Tribune’s story “one-sided.”
Read more: A Chinese tech billionaire has been accused of plying a student with drink and then forcing himself on her during a trip to the US
Since the arrest Liu has not attended any high-profile tech events in China, which are frequently attended by fellow founders and CEOs of tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu.
Here’s a list of events he missed between August and November 2018, according to Markets Insider.
- The AI World 2018 conference in Shanghai in late September.
- A business symposium with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in October, to which he was not invited, according to the South China Morning Post.
- The World Internet Conference for Chinese tech leaders in Wuzhen in November.
He made his first public appearance since the rape accusation outside of China, however, when he and his wife attended the wedding of Britain’s Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank in October 2018.
This was the first time Liu and Zhang had been seen in public together since Liu’s arrest, the South China Morning Post and Shanghaiist noted.
It’s not entirely clear how the Chinese couple know the royal couple. The Times of London reported that Liu was friends with Prince Andrew, the Queen’s third child and Eugenie’s father.
In December 2018, state prosecutors decided not to pursue Liu’s case, citing insufficient evidence.
“It was determined there were profound evidentiary problems which would have made it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
JD.com’s stock jumped after the prosecutors’ announcement. The company said it was “pleased to see” the decision, according to the Associated Press.
But the saga continued. In April 2019, his accuser filed a civil lawsuit against him and JD.com, which included graphic details about the alleged rape. The accuser also identified herself for the first time as Liu Jingyao, a college student at the University of Minnesota.
Here are some key points from the lawsuit, which Business Insider has seen.
- Richard Liu pressured Liu Jingyao to drink excessive amounts of alcohol at a networking dinner, which was attended by more than a dozen Chinese executives, the document alleged.
- Liu Jingyao, “as was intended by Defendant Liu, became impaired as a result of coercive actions of Defendant [Richard] Liu and his business friends and colleagues,” the suit claimed.
- After the dinner, Richard Liu took the student into a limousine, “began to grope and physically force himself upon the plaintiff,” and ignored her pleas to stop, according to the suit.
- The car eventually took Richard Liu and Liu Jingyao to the student’s apartment complex, and when they got to their apartment, he took off his clothes, lay on her bed naked, and raped her, the lawsuit claimed.
Richard Liu was arrested on the same night. According to the lawsuit, he angrily said “What the hell?” in Mandarin to the student as he was arrested and detained.
Liu Jingyao accused Richard Liu and JD.com of a combined six counts of false imprisonment, civil assault and battery, and sexual assault or battery. She seeks at least $50,000 in damages.
Richard Liu’s lawyers called the lawsuit “meritless” and said they would contest it vigorously.
Florin Roebig, one of the law firms representing Liu Jingyao, said in a statement cited by Reuters: “We are proud of the incredible courage our client has shown revealing her name for all the world to see, so that justice may be done.”
Read more: College student files lawsuit against the Chinese billionaire founder of JD.com after US prosecutors declined to charge him over rape accusation
The accuser garnered widespread support, with at least 500 people signing an online petition — hashtagged #HereforJingyao — shortly after she filed the civil lawsuit.
The petition, which circulated on popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, said according to Reuters: “To Liu Jingyao: You are not alone. We believe in survivors, we believe in your bravery and honesty, we will always stand with you.”
“We must join hands and march together in the face of the challenge of a culture of blaming the victims of rape,” it added.
It’s not clear who launched the petition. Signatories included Chinese students at foreign universities as well as in China, Reuters reported.
Read more: Hundreds sign online petition supporting woman suing JD.com CEO in rape case
A week after Liu Jingyao filed her lawsuit, a mystery account leaked surveillance footage from the night of the alleged assault on the microblogging platform Weibo. It showed the student and the CEO drinking at dinner and going home together. The screenshot here shows them sitting apart at the dinner mentioned in the lawsuit.
Though the clips were edited to show only parts of the evening, an attorney for Richard Liu told Business Insider that his legal team had confirmed the footage’s authenticity.
Read more: Leaked surveillance video shows the Chinese billionaire founder of JD.com drinking and going home with the woman accusing him of rape
The leaked videos also showed Liu Jingyao and Richard Liu walking around the student’s apartment building …
Source: Business Insider
… taking an elevator to her apartment …
Source: Business Insider
… and walking back to her apartment. Her arm appeared to be looped around him in several of the shots.
You can watch the clips here and here.
Source: Business Insider
Representatives for both Richard Liu and Liu Jingyao say the footage supports their version of events. The billionaire’s lawyer said the video undermines the student’s allegations that she was forced to drink, and was so drunk she was unable to walk.
Brisbois, Richard Liu’s lawyer, said the video release “can serve no purpose other than to damage his reputation.”
She has also called for the release of more surveillance videos and evidence “because they will demonstrate that my client is innocent.”
Liu Jingyao’s lawyers have not responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on Brisbois’ remarks.
Read more: Lawyer for JD.com billionaire accused of rape argues that leaked footage undermines his accuser because it shows she wasn’t that drunk
It’s not clear how Liu will fight the case, or how much his reputation in the business world has been affected. His lawyers have continuously denied sexual misconduct allegations and vowed to fight them.
Lawyers for neither Richard Liu nor Liu Jingyao have responded to Business Insider’s questions on how they plan to proceed with the case.