A civil trial scheduled for Monday pitting a former University of Minnesota student against the Chinese billionaire she said had raped her was settled Saturday, canceling what was expected to be a tumultuous four weeks in a Hennepin County courtroom.
The lawsuit was filed by Jingyao Liu, 25, against Richard Liu, 48, founder and chair of JD.com, a large e-commerce retailer in China. He said the sex was consensual, but she claimed that he raped her after a dinner party he hosted with other Chinese businessmen in Minneapolis in 2018.
The parties issued a joint statement late Saturday announcing the settlement, the terms for which were not disclosed. The statement added there would be no further comment.
According to the statement, the 2018 incident between the parties "resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and brought profound suffering to the parties and their families. Today, the parties agreed to set aside their differences, and settle their legal dispute in order to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit."
Given that Richard Liu's wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine to be $11 billion, the amount of the settlement is likely to be large.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this case was settled for many millions of dollars," said Joseph Daly, an emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul.
Accusations from both sides in court documents were extraordinarily harsh. The defendant's lawyers called Jingyao Liu a liar who had falsified her allegations against Richard Liu in order to malign him in the media and extract a large amount of money.
Jingyao Liu's attorneys portrayed Richard Liu as a sexual predator who laid an expensive trap — inviting her to a dinner party at an Uptown Minneapolis restaurant costing thousands of dollars, where he got her drunk and then forced himself on her at her apartment.
Richard Liu was in the courtroom on Thursday and Friday as the jury was selected, expressionless and wearing an earpiece to listen to an interpreter as an attorney pressed prospective jurors on potential bias regarding a self-made Chinese billionaire or the corporation he headed.
During one break in the proceedings, Liu stood up and, after conferring with his attorneys, walked into the small gallery area and put his hand on the arm of his wife. They walked out of the courtroom together.
Jingyao Liu has since graduated from the U and is now in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis. She was not in the courtroom last week but was scheduled to attend the trial. Both she and Richard Liu, who are not related, were listed among the witnesses who could testify in court.
The trial was expected to draw considerable national and international attention. Reporters with several news organizations that serve China and Asia had joined a pool of journalists covering the trial, along with Reuters, Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times previewed the trial in a story last week.
The growing feminist movement in China — spawned in part by the #MeToo movement in the United States — viewed the case as reflecting a pattern of abuse by a male-dominated Chinese hierarchy, in which women have little recourse owing to a court system controlled by the Communist Party.
In the meantime, Jingyao Liu and her supporters here decried social media channels in China, which they say are controlled by parties friendly to Richard Liu and have portrayed him as a victim of an unscrupulous young woman.
The daughter of a Chinese businessman, Jingyao Liu came to the United States to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield but transferred to the U in 2018.
According to court documents, Tony Cui, an associate dean at the U's Carlson School of Management and a friend of her father's, asked her to help while some of China's richest executives attended a week of programs that the school had organized for them. Each businessman paid $70,000 to participate in the special doctorate program.
Along with other volunteers — mostly women — Jingyao Liu's job was to assist the executives as needed, including accompanying them on morning runs. It was an arrangement that some in retrospect have suggested was rife for potential sexual exploitation.
According to Jingyao Lui's attorneys, she was pressed by one executive to attend a party at Origami restaurant thrown by Richard Liu. She said she was plied with wine and became drunk. When she asked to go home, she said, Richard Liu put her into his chauffeur-driven SUV, manhandled her and then had her driven to her apartment, where he raped her.
When she texted friends about the incident, one of them called police. At first she denied she had been raped but later changed her account, and Richard Lui was arrested the next day. He said they had consensual sex after she invited him in. He was released and quickly left the country.
Jingyao Lui later said her initial reluctance to call it rape flowed from her fear that there might be consequences for her family in China. More than three months later, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office announced that it lacked the evidence to bring criminal charges against Richard Liu.
Xiaowen Liang, a New York public interest attorney and friend of Jingyao Liu, said the settlement showed that Richard Liu wasn't confident of success in court.
"People don't cover up a lie for millions of dollars," she said. "They only do that to cover up the truth."
Liang and a group of Jingyao Liu's supporters who had flown to the Twin Cities for the trial still planned to hold a rally Monday outside the Hennepin County Government Center "to show solidarity for this hard-earned win."
They met Sunday on the Government Center's plaza, where they held signs and chanted "Solidarity with Jingyao / We believe survivors / We support #MeToo China." They videotaped the demonstration and planned to circulate it on social media in China.