JD.com Chief Richard Liu Will Not Be Charged With Sexual Assault

Richard Liu, the Chinese billionaire accused of rape nearly four months ago by a young Chinese student at the University of Minnesota, will not be charged with sexual assault, prosecutors in Minneapolis said on Friday.

The county attorney’s office said it did not find enough evidence to pursue a case against Mr. Liu, a 45-year-old internet tycoon who was arrested in the early morning of Sept. 1 but released within hours and allowed to return to China.

The decision could bring Mr. Liu, who founded and leads JD.com, back to a more visible role at his e-commerce behemoth. JD.com’s stock has slumped since the accusations were revealed, and Mr. Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, has skipped several public engagements.

“As is the case in too many sexual assault incidents, it was a complicated situation,” Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, said in a statement. “It is also similar to other sexual assault cases with the suspect maintaining the sex was consensual.”

In a statement on Chinese social media, Mr. Liu said that he had been unable “to address the situation or defend myself” to “avoid interfering with the independent investigation.”

JD.com said in a statement that it was pleased with the decision. Jill Brisbois, Mr. Liu’s lawyer, reiterated in a statement her “strong belief from the very beginning that my client is innocent,” adding that “Mr. Liu’s reputation has been damaged like anyone falsely accused of a crime” because of “misinformation and speculation that has been widely circulated.”

Wil Florin, a lawyer for the woman, said he was considering bringing a civil case, adding that prosecutors had made their decision having never met or spoken with his client. Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the county attorney’s office, declined to comment on Mr. Florin’s claim.

Mr. Liu was arrested this year while taking courses at the University of Minnesota. On the night of Aug. 30, he and a group of fellow students in the academic program dined at a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis. The occasion, involving some two dozen guests, was jovial. More than 30 bottles of wine had been brought in from a nearby liquor store.

Also present that evening was a 21-year-old woman, a Chinese student who was volunteering for the doctoral program. As she later told police, she had been invited to the dinner by another Chinese executive in the program, who asked her to sit next to Mr. Liu.

She told police that she got into a car with Mr. Liu after the dinner, and he began to touch her without her consent. She asked to be taken back to her apartment, where he forced himself upon her, despite her pleas, she told police.

But Ms. Brisbois, in an email, said the woman was being “flirtatious” in the car and agreed to the contact with Mr. Liu. Ms. Brisbois said that the woman invited Mr. Liu into her apartment building and that “what happened in the room was entirely consensual.”

“The woman was an active and willing participant and at no time did she indicate in any way that she did not consent,” Ms. Brisbois said. The following day, the woman sent text messages to friends saying that Mr. Liu had raped her.

Police were called to the apartment by a friend and fellow student, according to the county attorney’s office.

Ms. Brisbois said she spoke with the woman after Mr. Liu’s release, at the woman’s request. Over several phone calls and texts, the woman “made repeated demands for money, and threatened to make her allegations public and to sue Richard if her demands were not met,” Ms. Brisbois said.

Mr. Florin, the woman’s lawyer, said that a lawyer for Mr. Liu initiated contact with the woman about a settlement. Mr. Florin added that many of Ms. Brisbois’ descriptions of events are “directly contradicted by eyewitness testimony.”

The Minneapolis Police Department’s sex crimes unit conducted a “thorough investigation” into the case, the county attorney’s office said, followed by a “meticulous review” by four sexual assault prosecutors, a group of three men and one woman. They determined that “there were profound evidentiary problems which would have made it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Investigators reviewed surveillance video, text messages and witness statements. Among the evidence was footage from a body camera worn by an officer that recorded conversations between Mr. Liu and the woman at her apartment after police arrived.

The county attorney’s office declined to provide more detail, saying prosecutors “do not want to re-victimize the young woman.”

In his statement on social media, Mr. Liu apologized to his wife, Zhang Zetian, and said he felt “deep regret and remorse.”

“I will continue to try in every possible way to repair the impact on my family and to fulfill my responsibility as a husband,” he said.

In China, the incident exploded on social media. People scrutinized Minnesota police documents, speculated about whether Mr. Liu had been set up and pondered the glimpse they had gotten into the lives of the country’s ultrawealthy business elites.

JD.com is a proud emblem of China’s rising consumer class, and a major partner to global brands, like Adidas and Samsung, that use the platform. Walmart, Google and the Chinese internet conglomerate Tencent are all JD.com shareholders. And Mr. Liu is a celebrity tycoon whose rise from humble means to internet riches is the subject of many admiring books and television programs.

The company’s shares have lost around 60 percent of their value since early this year as it grappled with the accusations against Mr. Liu and slowing economic growth in China.

The company’s business has been under pressure recently. China’s economy is decelerating, and competition from rivals such as Alibaba has intensified. In November, JD.com said that its customer base had shrunk for the first time since the company went public in 2014. The retailer says it still serves more than 300 million shoppers.

The rape allegation against Mr. Liu has weighed on JD.com in part because he has never indicated who might succeed him as chief executive. Mr. Liu controls nearly 80 percent of shareholder votes at the company, thanks to a special class of stock with 20 times the voting power of regular shares.

As a result, the company’s board cannot make decisions without him present. Mr. Liu once told a television interviewer that his early experience running a failed restaurant taught him the need for an iron managerial grip.

That appears to be changing, a little. In a November conference call, Mr. Liu told analysts that he would focus more on strategy and new businesses at JD.com in the future, leaving more of the management of mature businesses to subordinates.


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