Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will not charge Chinese billionaire Richard Liu with rape in connection with an incident involving a University of Minnesota student.
The 21-year-old Chinese undergraduate said she was sexually assaulted by Liu in her apartment near the university campus on the night of Aug. 30. She alleged Liu and other Chinese executives got her drunk at a restaurant.
Freeman, who announced his decision Friday, said after a thorough investigation by Minneapolis police “and a meticulous review by four senior, sexual assault prosecutors, it was determined there were profound evidentiary problems which would have made it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Liu, 45, also known as Liu Qiangdong, is the founder of Beijing-based JD.com, an e-commerce site similar to Amazon with more than 300 million customers. Liu has an estimated net worth of $5.3 billion. He’s known throughout Asia, and the allegations have been reported worldwide.
Jill Brisbois, a Minneapolis attorney representing Liu, applauded Freeman’s decision. “This confirms our strong belief from the very beginning that my client is innocent,” she said in a statement. “Mr. Liu was arrested based on a false claim, and after a thorough investigation, with which he fully cooperated, the declination of charges vindicates him. Mr. Liu is grateful for the hard work of law enforcement to resolve this matter.”
The woman’s attorney, Wil Florin, who has offices in Florida and Bloomington, blasted the decision. “If anyone cares to know why victims of sexual assault are hesitant and fearful to come forward to authorities seeking justice for what has been done to them look no further than the manner in which this decision was handled by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office,” he said.
He said the woman will file suit. “We will not permit her dignity to be simply swept under the rug,” he said.
Brisbois offered an account of the encounter that sharply differed from the woman’s claim that she was raped. Brisbois said the woman invited Liu into the apartment and engaged in consensual sex.
Brisbois said the woman demanded Liu’s lawyer call her: “I called the woman back after [Liu’s] release from jail. Over the course of several phone calls and texts in the following hours, she made repeated demands for money and threatened to make her allegations public and to sue Richard if her demands were not met. Richard refused to negotiate.”
Florin countered Friday that many of Brisbois’ assertions are contradicted by others. “On the day following the assault,” Florin said, “one of Liu’s lawyers shockingly initiated contact by phone with our client and before the 21-year-old even had a lawyer, with the apparent intent to discuss a settlement of the matter. The details of those interactions are better left for a jury to judge.”
At the time of the incident, Liu was studying for a doctorate in business at the Carlson School of Management in a specialized program for elite Chinese business executives.
The student, who has not been identified, had been assigned as a volunteer to help the executives during the last week in August when Liu and other Chinese executives were residing in Minneapolis.
Freeman made his announcement through a news release. He declined to talk to the news media.
In his statement, Freeman said, “As is the case in many sexual assault incidents, it was a complicated situation. It is also similar to other assault cases with the suspect maintaining the sex was consensual.
“As we reviewed 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. Because we do not want to re-victimize the young woman, we will not be going into detail.”
Freeman said in his statement that the evidence was reviewed by four prosecutors, three male and one female.
He said the evidence included video from a body camera worn by the officers that captured conversations between Liu and the woman inside her apartment, and later, portions of conversations between the two after the woman asked to speak privately with Liu before he was taken back to his hotel. “The substance of those conversations, along with all of the other evidence including statements from the woman and others, as well as footage from multiple surveillance cameras, do not support criminal charges in this case.”
He said the three months his office took to review the case and make a decision “is not unusual for a sexual assault case, especially one in which no one is in custody.” He added, “It had nothing to do with Liu’s status as a wealthy, foreign businessman.”
Brisbois said: “Mr. Liu’s reputation has been damaged like anyone falsely accused of a crime. It was unfortunate that a great deal of unsubstantiated and misleading information was disseminated by certain sources.”
While the 21-year-old woman spoke to police, she never talked to prosecutors, Florin said. “They never met this victim, they never spoke to this victim; they never requested to meet with her; they never sought to meet with her lawyers; they never asked her a question; they never reached out to her; they never offered her any support or guidance.” He said they never gave “her the common courtesy of a meeting to advise her of their intentions.”
In the woman’s account, another Chinese business executive invited her to a dinner at Origami, a restaurant in Uptown, that was hosted by Liu and was told to sit next to Liu. Brisbois said Liu did not know her before the dinner and neither Liu nor his assistants invited her to the dinner or requested that she sit next to him.
The woman said executives at the dinner got her drunk by continuing to toast her and she felt obligated to drink. According to Brisbois, “The woman toasted Richard and added wine to her own glass.” She said Liu was not drunk and the woman did not appear drunk.
The woman has reported she wanted one of Liu’s assistants to call an Uber so she could go home, according to a source. In Brisbois’ account, “The woman said she wanted to join the group [of dinner guests at a home they had rented], so she left the Origami with Richard” in an SUV that Liu had hired for the week.
The woman says Liu made physical moves toward her in the SUV against her will. Brisbois said the interactions “were flirtatious and consensual, according to Richard’s assistants.”
Outside the rented home, the woman said she refused to go in. Brisbois said the two got out and the woman suggested that they should go to her apartment instead.
Brisbois said the woman invited Liu into her apartment building, opened the building door for him, using her card key and gestured for him to enter. “The woman entered the building with her arm linked in Richard’s arm.”
By the woman’s account, she heard Liu tell the driver of the SUV and Liu’s assistant he would be right back.
“The woman was an active and willing participant [in the sex] and at no time did she indicate in any way that she did not consent,” Brisbois said. The woman said she repeatedly pleaded with Liu to stop.
Brisbois said that Liu took “the unusual step of volunteering a statement to police following his arrest because he had nothing to hide.”
Said Florin, “A civil jury will determine whether Mr. Liu, JD.com and their representatives should be held accountable for the events of that night.”
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst