MINNEAPOLIS, United States — The University of Minnesota undergraduate student who accused Chinese billionaire Richard Liu of raping her filed a civil suit against the chief executive of e-commerce giant JD.com Inc. and the company itself, seeking monetary damages almost four months after prosecutors decided not to press criminal charges.
Jingyao Liu, a 21-year-old student at the time of the incident, charged the Chinese company and its employees played a key role in the alleged August rape while Liu was attending a doctor of business administration programme at the university. A public relations executive allegedly purchased 32 bottles of wine for more than $3,600 with a company credit card at a dinner leading up to the incident, then paid the dinner tab with the same corporate card, according to the complaint. Another woman affiliated with JD rode in the limousine while the chief executive allegedly groped and pressed himself on the student.
Jingyao Liu claims he forcibly assaulted her in her apartment after plying her with alcohol at the business networking dinner with more than a dozen Chinese male executives, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in Hennepin County court in Minnesota. After police arrived at the apartment to investigate, Liu allegedly tried to intimidate her in an exchange recorded on the officers’ body cameras, according to the suit.
“What the hell?” Liu said in Mandarin, leading the plaintiff “to fear not only for her own safety but also for the safety of her family in China.”
Liu, his attorneys and JD have denied wrongdoing.
“We have not yet reviewed the complaint and are not going to comment on pending litigation,” Jill Brisbois, an attorney for Liu, said in an email. “But based on the Hennepin County Attorney’s declination to charge a case against our client and our belief in his innocence, we feel strongly that this suit is without merit and will vigorously defend against it.”
Jingyao Liu was instructed by Yao to sit beside the JD chief executive at a table of about 15 all-male executives.
The rape accusations have hung over JD.com’s stock since they were made public in September. Liu’s outsize control of voting rights closely linked the firm’s fate to his own. In China, he’s seen as a visionary founder and the driving force behind one of the country’s most successful internet companies. Bloomberg reported this month that JD.com is preparing deep cuts to its workforce and rescinding some job offers as the Chinese e-commerce giant struggles to revive dwindling morale and rein in losses.
In the civil suit, Jingyao Liu and her attorneys restated many previously reported allegations of the controversial night in Minnesota and added a few new ones. Just before the start of classes for the fall 2018 semester, the student was asked to participate as a “volunteer” for the university’s doctor of business administration, or DBA, program, which caters to “wealthy and influential executives from China.” She was invited by Tony Haitao Cui, deputy associate dean for the global DBA program, who didn’t explain “that nearly all the ‘volunteers’ were young and female while nearly all or all of the student executives were male and middle aged,” according to the suit.
Jingyao Liu was working as a volunteer at the front desk of the university’s Carlson School of Management on Aug. 29 when she was invited to a group dinner the next night by Charlie Yao, also known as Qiyong Yao, an executive in the DBA program, according to the suit. Yao had gotten to know her through university jogging sessions and had offered her a job in China, but he did not tell her that JD’s chief executive had specifically asked for her to join the dinner.
On the afternoon of August 30, Liu, who had been staying in the penthouse of the tony Hotel Ivy with his wife, Zhang Zetian, accompanied her and other family members to the local airport for a private flight out of Minneapolis, the suit said. He later joined the dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Origami, where Jingyao Liu was instructed by Yao to sit beside the JD chief executive at a table of about 15 all-male executives.
In addition to alcohol purchased at the restaurant, the group drank more than 30 bottles of wine purchased by Vivian Yang, or Han Yang, a public relations and communications executive for JD, according to the suit. The document also details the store where the wine was bought and the last four digits of an alleged company-issued credit card. Jingyao Liu was purportedly pressured to drink during toasts by Liu who said she would “dishonour” him if she resisted in front of his guests; she soon grew impaired.
As the dinner concluded around 9:11 p.m., Jingyao Liu was directed into a limousine JD had hired for the week for about $18,000 and she was accompanied by the chief executive, Yang and the other woman, Alice Zhang.
Jingyao Liu was purportedly pressured to drink during toasts by Liu who said she would 'dishonour' him if she resisted in front of his guests; she soon grew impaired.
Yang instructed the driver to take them to a mansion that had been rented by another executive in the DBA program and during the trip, the CEO “began to grope and physically force himself upon the plaintiff,” according to the complaint.
When they arrived at the mansion and Jingyao Liu realised she hadn’t been taken to her residence, she pleaded in English “I want to go home.”
During the trip to her apartment, the chief executive allegedly groped her while the student pleaded with him to stop. Zhang allegedly turned the rearview mirror so the chauffeur couldn’t see what was happening behind him.
When the chief executive and the student reached her apartment, he entered, took off his clothes and lay on her bed naked, according to the suit. She never consented to any sexual acts and repeatedly asked him to stop, but he allegedly overpowered her. She then secretly sent a message over WeChat to another volunteer to say she had been sexually assaulted; he called 911 to report the emergency and the Minneapolis police arrived at about 3:10 a.m.
After the student answered her door, the officers found the chief executive lying on the bed, wearing a T-shirt but naked from the waist down, according to the suit. While he was handcuffed and removed, Liu “clearly tried to intimidate” the student by staring and “angrily stating to her ‘what the hell?’ in Mandarin.” Jingyao Liu said at the time she had been raped and that the chief executive was very wealthy and powerful. She “told the officer she was concerned both for her immediate safety and about what might happen to her in the future when she is legally required to return to China. The foregoing all appears on body camera footage,” the suit said.
In December, the local prosecutor who declined to charge Liu said he made his decision after reviewing surveillance video, text messages, police body camera video and witness statements.
“It became clear that we could not meet our burden of proof and, therefore, we could not bring charges,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at the time.
Jingyao Liu is seeking “significant compensatory damages” and will also pursue punitive damages against both Liu and JD.com, according to a statement issued by her attorneys.
The case is Jingyao Liu v. Richard Liu, 27-cv-19-5911, District Court, Fourth Judicial District, County of Hennepin, Minnesota.
By Selina Wang, with assistance from David Ramli; editors: Jillian Ward, Peter Blumberg and Peter Elstrom.