China marks first arrest in Alibaba sex-assault case that rocked nation

Alibaba Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang called his company's handling of the incident a "humiliation". PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China made its first arrest in a sexual-assault case involving a former Alibaba Group Holding manager that has sparked debate about sexism in the nation's tech industry.

Prosecutors in the northern city of Jinan said in a statement posted online on Wednesday (Aug 25) that they had approved the arrest of a former employee of Jinan Hualian Supermarket surnamed Zhang on suspicion of forcible indecency.

Zhang was at a dinner in late July with an employee from Alibaba who claimed she was sexually assaulted by her boss, surnamed Wang.

The tech company later fired the manager after the woman's accusation went viral.

Police have said he was suspected of committing forcible indecency against the woman surnamed Zhou, using a charge that can encompass sexual assault.

Police said earlier that Zhang was also suspected of committing the same crime when he accompanied the woman back to the dinner table after she vomited following excessive drinking.

The case triggered what many in China say is an overdue examination of the ways women in the workplace are objectified, forced to take part in drinking with clients and brushed aside when reporting abuse.

The ruling Communist Party's anti-corruption watchdog said in a commentary earlier this month that China should reduce business drinking and replace it with "correct values".

Some "under the table rules" such as forced drinking for business purposes may lead to crimes, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in the article.

Police have said they are still investigating Wang.

The ex-manager was fired after the case came to light internally, while two senior executives at the e-commerce giant have resigned.

Alibaba Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang issued a rare public mea culpa, calling his company's handling of the incident a "humiliation".

Neither Jinan Hualian Supermarket nor Alibaba immediately responded to a request for comment.

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