US student sues China's CEO Richard Liu for rape after prosecutors declined to press criminal charges

Mr Richard Liu maintained his innocence throughout the law enforcement investigation, which ended in December. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A University of Minnesota student who said she was raped last August by Mr Richard Liu, the chief executive officer of China's e-commerce retailer, filed a civil lawsuit against him in a Minneapolis court on Tuesday (April 16), nearly four months after prosecutors declined to press criminal charges.

Mr Liu, through his lawyers, maintained his innocence throughout the law enforcement investigation, which ended in December.

The lawsuit in Hennepin County court seeks undisclosed damages and names Mr Liu and as defendants. It also identifies the student for the first time as Ms Liu Jingyao, a Chinese woman who is not related to the executive.

"Defendant Liu was physically larger in size and significantly stronger than the plaintiff and used his superior size and strength to subdue and rape her," the court document said.

Mr Liu's attorney, Ms Jill Brisbois, did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. also did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

The student first accused Mr Liu of rape in August when he was visiting the University of Minnesota to attend a doctor of business administration programme directed at Chinese executives.

Mr Liu, 46, who started as a humble electronics stall and expanded it into an e-commerce company with 2018 net revenues of US$67 billion (S$90.8 billion), was arrested on Aug 31 but released without charge about 17 hours later. He soon returned to China and continued his executive role, as prosecutors in Minnesota investigated the rape allegation to determine if criminal charges were warranted.

In December, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman announced he was not charging Mr Liu, as there were "profound evidentiary problems which would have made it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Mr Liu said subsequently on Chinese social media, Weibo, that while he had broken no law, he felt "utter self-admonishment and regret" for the "enormous pain" his "actions on that day" caused his family, especially his wife, Internet celebrity Zhang Zetian.

Also known as Liu Qiangdong, he would have faced up to 30 years in prison under Minnesota law if convicted of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct.

Reuters previously reported details of what happened while Mr Liu was in Minneapolis for a week long residency programme at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, including a description of the alleged attack and the events around it given by the then-anonymous student.

"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," Florin Roebig, P.A., one of the law firms representing Ms Liu, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Florin Roebig declined to comment on the amount they were seeking in damages, but the court filing showed it was more than the $50,000 threshold required.

Spokesmen for the University of Minnesota and the Hennepin County Attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit.


The lawsuit accused Mr Liu and of a total of six counts of false imprisonment, civil assault and battery, and sexual assault or battery. is "vicariously liable" for Mr Liu's behavior because his alleged actions happened while he was "seemingly" at work-related activities, the court document said. The assault and battery also began in the presence of two other employees, Ms Vivian Yang Han and Ms Alice Zhang Yujia, the court filing said.

Reached on her mobile phone for comment, Ms Yang hung up. Ms Zhang did not respond to a message seeking comment.

"Those employees were not only present but helped facilitate" Mr Liu's alleged assault of the student, according to the lawsuit.

"The offensive contact caused the plaintiff physical and emotional injuries," the court filing said. "It also caused her to withdraw from all classes during the fall 2018 semester at the University of Minnesota and to seek professional counselling, care, and treatment."

The lawsuit said that when police visited the student's apartment after being alerted to the rape allegation, Mr Liu tried to intimidate her from cooperating with law enforcement, according to an officer's body camera footage. The lawsuit said Mr Liu was "staring down" at her while being removed from her apartment, angrily saying "what the hell?".

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