Jury selection will begin Thursday in Hennepin County District Court for a civil trial that's expected to draw at least as much attention in Asia as in Minneapolis, where the allegations began four years ago.
Jurors will decide whether Chinese billionaire and CEO Richard Liu, 48, plied a University of Minnesota student from China with alcohol and raped her, as she claims, or whether the sex was consensual and the student fabricated the accusation in hopes of a financial windfall.
Opening arguments are expected Monday in the lawsuit filed by the student, Jingyao Liu, now 25 and not related to the defendant. Both she and Richard Liu are listed as witnesses who could testify. The trial is expected to last about four weeks.
Efforts by the defendant's attorneys to have the case thrown out failed after Judge Edward Wahl, who will preside at the trial, ruled that there is sufficient evidence to give a jury the opportunity to weigh the facts.
Richard Liu was arrested on suspicion of rape after the night in question but was subsequently released. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office concluded it could not prove the charge and chose not to prosecute.
Jingyao Liu's attorneys then decided to sue both Richard Liu and the company he founded and still chairs, internet retail giant JD.com — a Chinese company comparable to Amazon.
Richard Liu could be on the hook for punitive as well as compensatory damages if the jury finds that he raped the plaintiff. Wahl decided that JD.com would have to pay only compensatory damages.
Jingyao Liu has since graduated from the U and attends graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis.
The testimony of Richard Liu and Jingyao Liu may prove to be critical, said Joseph Daly, emeritus professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Court documents and pretrial hearings reveal that the two sides will present sharply different pictures of how events unfolded in south Minneapolis on the night of Aug. 30, 2018.
Jingyao Liu's attorneys will argue the defendant developed a ruse to assault the young woman, who was 21 and had transferred to the U that summer from St. Olaf College in Northfield to study music and linguistics.
According to the plaintiff, Richard Liu, who was taking a doctorate course with other wealthy Chinese businessmen at the U's Carlson School of Management, organized a party at Origami, an Uptown restaurant. Jingyao Liu says an associate dean encouraged her to help the businessmen at the U and was pressed by another Chinese businessman to attend the party.
She says she was seated on purpose next to Liu, who gave a long series of toasts intended to get her inebriated, her attorneys will argue. They are expected to offer witnesses who will say it is Chinese custom to join such toasts and to refuse to drink is to humiliate those making them.
Jingyao Liu's attorneys also will attempt to show that when she wanted to go home, the defendant intervened to have her driven by his chauffeur and that he manhandled her in the SUV's back seat. They will present evidence to show that Richard Liu tried to get her to go inside a south Minneapolis house the businessmen had rented; when she balked, the attorneys contend, he drove to her apartment, entered it with her and raped her.
Richard Liu's attorneys will contend that Jingyao Liu was not physically assaulted in the SUV and attempt to show that she more than willingly went with him to her apartment, buttressed by surveillance video of her smiling as they walked arm in arm.
The defendant will argue the sex was consensual and that Jingyao Liu at first told police she was not raped. She exchanged a series of text messages with friends, some of which she deleted — evidence, the defense will argue, that she wanted to cover up the truth.
Jingyao Liu's attorneys counter that she denied she was raped when questioned by police because she feared that Liu, one of the richest men in China with powerful connections in the Communist Party, could use his influence to threaten her family.
Richard Liu's team includes some prominent attorneys, including John Marti, a former acting U.S. attorney for Minnesota. Jingyao Liu is represented by a Florida firm with an office in Bloomington that has won a number of multimillion-dollar jury verdicts.
Diane Doolittle, one of Richard Liu's attorneys, said in a statement Wednesday that the plaintiff's "attempts to conceal the truth by deleting text messages, her threats to leak to the press if she wasn't paid, and her willingness to falsely accuse an innocent individual of committing a crime will be presented in court. We are confident that after considering all of the evidence, the jury will agree that her claims are baseless."
Said Wil Florin, one of Jingyao Liu's attorneys: "Since the beginning of time, women who have been sexually assaulted and come forward to seek justice have been subjected to this kind of defamation. … The young student that I represent, despite the relentless onslaught of character assassination, has shown the courage and strength to step forward and seek accountability. On Monday, she will tell her truth to a Hennepin County jury."
The trial, Daly said, will be "like watching civilized warfare in court."