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Chinese billionaire settles sexual assault lawsuit from former UMN student

Opening statements in the trial were scheduled to start Monday morning

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Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu, CEO of JD.com, arrives at the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at The Great Hall of People on March 3, 2018, in Beijing. The Chinese billionaire (and one of the richest men in the world) has settled a lawsuit that alleged that he raped a former University of Minnesota student after a night of dinner and drinks in 2018.
Lintao Zhang / Getty Images
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MINNEAPOLIS — Chinese billionaire Richard Liu has settled a lawsuit filed by a former University of Minnesota student who alleged that she’d been sexually assaulted by him in 2018. Opening statements in the trial were scheduled to start Monday morning in downtown Minneapolis.

The civil suit was filed in 2019 by Jingyao Liu, who is not related to the billionaire, a few months after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file criminal charges against Richard Liu.

In her complaint, Jingyao Liu said she’d been recruited to “volunteer” for a program at the University of Minnesota for Chinese executives. She alleged that she was pressured to drink alcohol at a dinner and then raped by Liu in her apartment.

The lawsuit has captivated the Chinese public because of Richard Liu’s stature as founder of e-retailer JD.com and his position as one of the richest men in China, with personal wealth valued at about $11.5 billion, according to Forbes.

In a joint statement released by attorneys, the parties called the incident "a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and brought profound suffering to the parties and their families." They said they’d “agreed to set aside their differences, and settle their legal dispute in order to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit."

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JD.com was also a defendant in the lawsuit. The judge had ruled that jurors could find the company liable for compensatory damages. Richard Liu was potentially liable for both compensatory and punitive damages. The terms of the settlement between the parties haven't been disclosed.

Powerful men in China rarely face repercussions for allegations of sexual assault.

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Xiaowen Liang, a supporter of Jingyao Liu, posted about the settlement on Twitter, calling it a “hard-earned win” for both Jingyao Liu and the Chinese #MeToo movement, which has been censored and repressed by the Chinese government. She said supporters planned to rally in solidarity with Jingyao Liu at the Hennepin County Government Center on Sunday afternoon.

The South China Morning Post translated a statement in Chinese from Richard Liu, in which he apologized to his wife and expressed the hope that his “life and work can go back to normal as soon as possible.”

In August 2018, Jingyao Liu was a 21-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. She said in the civil complaint that she’d been recruited by university staff to serve as a volunteer for the University of Minnesota’s Doctor of Business Administration-China program, which focuses on top Chinese executives.

Although Jingyao Liu said she was wary of attending a business dinner, she didn’t want to offend the executives. She was seated next to Richard Liu at the dinner, where she alleged that she was pressured to drink alcohol. After the dinner, she alleges that Richard Liu entered her apartment and sexually assaulted her.

Jingyao Liu said in the complaint that she sent a message to a friend, who called 911. Police removed Richard Liu from her apartment and later arrested him. Although she later told police she just wanted payment and an apology, according to court documents.

Richard Liu and his attorneys denied Jingyao Liu’s allegations. In a statement late last week, Richard Liu’s attorney Diane Doolittle said he and Jingyao Liu had “consensual sex.” Doolittle accused Jingyao Liu of falsely accusing Richard Liu “in an attempt to get a payout.”

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Settlement documents from the court aren't yet available. A court hearing scheduled for Monday morning has been canceled.

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