powBy Koh Gui Qing and Lawrence Delevingne
MINNEAPOLIS/NEW YORK (Reuters)
With the Chinese billionaire Richard Liu at her Minneapolis area apartment, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student sent a WeChat message to a friend in the middle of the night. She wrote that Liu had forced her to have sex with him
“I was not willing,” she wrote in Chinese on the messaging application around 2 a.m. on August 31. “Tomorrow I will think of a way to escape,” she wrote, as she begged the friend not to call police.
“He will suppress it,” she wrote, referring to Liu. “You underestimate his power.”
This WeChat exchange and another one reviewed by Reuters have not been previously reported. One of the woman’s lawyers, Wil Florin, verified that the text messages came from her.
Liu, the founder of Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com Inc, was arrested later that day on suspicion of rape, according to a police report. He was released without being charged and has denied any wrongdoing through a lawyer. He has since returned to China and has pledged to cooperate with Minneapolis police.
Jill Brisbois, a lawyer for Liu, said he maintains his innocence and has cooperated fully with the investigation.
“These allegations are inconsistent with evidence that we hope will be disclosed to the public once the case is closed,” Brisbois wrote in an email response to detailed questions from Reuters.
Loretta Chao, a spokeswoman for JD.com, said that when more information becomes available, “it will become apparent that the information in this note doesn’t tell the full story.”
She was responding to detailed questions from Reuters laying out the allegations in the woman’s WeChat messages and other findings
Florin Roebig and Hang & Associates, the law firms representing the woman, said in an email that their client had “fully cooperated” with police and was also prepared to assist prosecutors. Florin, asked if his client planned to file a civil suit against Liu, said, “Our legal intentions with regard to Mr. Liu and others will be revealed at the appropriate time.”
Representatives for both Liu and the student declined requests from Reuters to interview their clients.
The police department has turned over the findings of its initial investigation into the matter to local prosecutors for a decision on whether to bring charges against Liu. There is no deadline for making that decision, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
The Minneapolis police and the county attorney declined to comment on detailed questions from Reuters.
Reuters has not been able to determine the identity of the woman, which has not been made public. But her WeChat messages to two friends, and interviews with half a dozen people with knowledge of the events that unfolded over a two-day period provide new information about the interactions between Liu and the woman, a student from China attending the University.
The case has drawn intense scrutiny globally and in China, where the tycoon, also known as Liu Qiangdong, is celebrated for his rags-to-riches story. Liu, 45, is married to Zhang Zetian, described by Chinese media as 24-years old, who has become a celebrity in China and works to promote JD.com.
As the second-largest ecommerce website in the country after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the company has attracted investors such as Walmart Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and China’s Tencent Holdings.
Liu holds nearly 80 percent of the voting rights in JD.com. Shares in the company have fallen about 15 percent since Liu’s arrest and are down about 36 percent for the year.
“IT WAS A TRAP”
Liu was in Minneapolis briefly to attend a business doctoral program run jointly by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and China’s elite Tsinghua University, according to the University of Minnesota. The doctoral program is “directed at high-level executives” from China.
Liu threw a dinner party on August 30 for about two dozen people, including around 20 men, at Origami Uptown, a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis where wine, sake and beer flowed freely, according to restaurant staff and closed circuit video footage reviewed by Reuters.
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