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Chinese billionaire settles US rape allegation

Richard Liu pictured in 2014 (Mark Lennihan/AP)
Richard Liu pictured in 2014 (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Chinese billionaire and JD.com founder Richard Liu has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleged he raped her in her apartment in the US after a night of dinner and drinks with wealthy Chinese executives in 2018, lawyers for both sides have announced.

Richard Liu, who stepped down as the chief executive of Beijing-based ecommerce 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 filed criminal charges.

A joint statement from lawyers for both sides called the encounter “a misunderstanding”.

“The incident between Ms Jingyao Liu and Mr Richard Liu in Minnesota in 2018 resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and brought profound suffering to the parties and their families,” the joint statement said.

“Today, the parties agreed to set aside their differences, and settle their legal dispute in order to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit.”

The settlement was announced two days before the civil trial was set to begin in Minneapolis on Monday.

Richard Liu is a celebrity in China, part of a generation of entrepreneurs who created the country’s internet, ecommerce, mobile phone and other technology industries since the late 1990s.

Forbes estimated his wealth at 10.9 billion US dollars on Saturday.

Jingyao Liu alleges the attack happened in 2018 while Richard Liu was in Minneapolis for a week-long residency in the University of Minnesota’s doctor of business administration China programme, geared towards high-level executives in China.

Jingyao Liu, a Chinese citizen, was at the university on a student visa and was a volunteer in the programme.

She was 21 and Richard Liu was in his mid-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 “profound evidentiary problems” and declined to file criminal charges.

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

The case drew widespread attention at a time when the #MeToo movement was gaining traction in China.

Richard Liu’s supporters and opponents waged aggressive public relations campaigns on Chinese social media; censors shut down some accounts that supported Jingyao Liu for “violating regulations”.

Jingyao Liu said in her lawsuit that she had to withdraw from lessons in autumn 2018 and seek counselling and treatment. Her lawyer said she had since graduated but that she had post-traumatic stress disorder.

She had sought compensatory as well as punitive damages from Richard Liu.

Her lawsuit said she was seeking more than 50,000 US dollars, a standard figure that must be listed in Minnesota if a plaintiff intends to seek any larger amount. She was expected to ask a jury to award much more.

A settlement amount was not disclosed.