Chinese billionaire Richard Liu settles US rape charge hours before trial

Billionaire JD.com founder Richard Liu has reached a settlement with Liu Jingyao, the Minnesota student who accused him of rape in 2018, ending a civil lawsuit less than 48 hours before a trial was due to begin.

“The incident between Ms. Jingyao Liu and Mr. Richard Liu in Minnesota in 2018 resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed considerable public attention and brought deep suffering to the parties and their families,” the parties said in a joint statement. “Today, the parties agreed to set aside their differences and settle their legal dispute to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the litigation.”

Details of the settlement were not released. Liu Jingyao had sought at least US$50,000 in damages, plus additional punitive damages, in the lawsuit. While prosecutors in criminal cases are required to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard is lower in civil cases, where the jury must be convinced only by a preponderance of the evidence of the defendant’s responsibility.

Richard Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, is one of China’s most powerful businessmen, and the company he founded in 1998 has grown to be one of its largest e-commerce platforms. News of the alleged assault wiped $10 billion off the company’s value, but Liu remains among the 150 richest people in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index, with a net worth of $12.2 billion.

The civil case attracted international attention, in part because China’s domestic legal system makes it difficult for women to seek redress for sexual misconduct by men. The nation’s courts generally give little weight to testimony, making it difficult for women whose cases depend on testimony and credibility.

Liu, then a student at the University of Minnesota, filed a police report in 2018, saying the technical manager groped her in a car after dinner at a Minneapolis restaurant and later raped her. After prosecutors declined to press charges, saying they lacked sufficient evidence, Liu filed a civil suit.

Richard Liu, who was expected to testify in the trial, has consistently denied Liu Jingyao’s accusations and insisted their meeting was consensual.

The settlement was hotly debated on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where a hashtag of the news had been viewed 86 million times by early Sunday afternoon local time. Many comments disparaged Jingyao Liu and suggested that she was pursuing lawsuits for money, an unfounded accusation that has dogged Jingyao Liu since she first pursued lawsuits.

Some of her supporters have also been attacked on social media, said Liang Xiaowen, an activist and lawyer based in New York. “There have been students who were pressured by staff at their university to delete posts expressing support for Jingyao Liu,” she said. “Many people have experienced intimidation by supporting Jingyao Liu. So this result is important to them.”

In the three months after his arrest, JD.com lost more than $10 billion in market value — nearly a third of its capital at the time. In China, JD.com is a combination of e-commerce and delivery, with similarities to Amazon.com Inc. and Federal Express Corp. It also has operations in Thailand and Indonesia.

The company paid a special cash dividend in May of 63 cents per share. ordinary share and 1.26 dollars per American depositary for a payout of $2 billion, of which more than $200 million went to Richard Liu.

On Sept. 16, Richard Liu ceded 45% of his equity stakes in two JD.com affiliates to Qin Miao, vice president of JD Group, to increase management efficiency, according to filings with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

The transfer followed Richard Liu’s decision to step down as CEO of JD.com in April. He was replaced by company president Xu Lei. Richard Liu also resigned from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, citing “personal reasons.”

— With the assistance of Linda Lew

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