It was a case last fall that raised eyebrows across the B-school landscape — and beyond. Richard Liu, the founder of China’s equivalent to Amazon, JD.com, was accused in the rape of a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student. Four months later, police decided not to charge him.
Now police have released the files in the case, including text messages and an audio recording of Liu’s interview with authorities.
The files reveal that the unnamed student met Liu, 46, whose full Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, while he was a student in the university’s Carlson School of Management, participating in a program for Chinese business executives. They also show that the young woman was fearful that the powerful and well-connected billionaire would retaliate against her family in China.
STUDENT SAYS SHE WAS FORCED TO SLEEP WITH LIU
According to reports at the time that have been corroborated and confirmed by the newly released police files, the Minnesota student was invited to dinner with Liu and 15 others. There were only four women at the party, according to Liu’s statement in the audio interview: his secretary, an assistant, a classmate in the Carlson execs program, and the young woman. After a night of drinking, “She invited me to go to her apartment,” Liu said in the deposition.
Surveillance cameras at the woman’s apartment building show she and Liu walking arm-in-arm, entering the elevator, and going to her room. She would later tell police that Liu undressed before attempting to rip off her clothes, then forcing her to have sex.
Later, according to both local reports and the police files, the woman texted a friend as Liu slept, saying she was forced to sleep with him. She later told officers that she was afraid of what he might do to her family back in China.
THE RISE OF JD.COM
Richard Liu holds a sociology degree from China’s Renmin University. In the late 1990s he earned an EMBA from China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. According to his profile in Business of Fashion, in 1998 Liu “struck out on his own, opening a shop selling magneto-optical products in Beijing. He named it ‘Jingdong’ after the last character of his then-girlfriend’s name and the last character of his own name. By 2003, he had expanded to 12 stores.
“But that year’s SARS outbreak forced both staff and customers to remain house-bound, threatening Jingdong’s future. The outbreak forced Liu to reconsider his brick-and-mortar business model, and in 2004, JD.com was born.”
By the next year, Liu had closed all of his stores to focus on e-commerce, where he began to sell consumer goods alongside electronics. Over the next 1o years, JD.com grew rapidly, becoming the main rival to e-commerce giant Alibaba and culminating, in spring 2014, with the company going public in “one of the biggest Nasdaq floats of that year.”
Liu’s personal worth is currently estimated at more than $7 billion.
MINNESOTA AUTHORITIES DECLINE TO FILE CHARGES, LIU RETURNS TO CHINA
Liu was in Minneapolis to complete the American residency of a U.S.-China business administration doctorate program. The program is co-led by Tsinghua University and takes place mainly in Beijing with one cohort of students. According to Bloomberg, the average age in the program is 50, and many are captains of industry; among the graduates of the program are the executive manager of storied spirits-maker Kweichow Moutai and the head of fintech titan Ant Financial. The Carlson School has had an office in Beijing since 2008 to support the program.
Carlson Dean Sri Zaheer told Bloomberg in the wake of Liu’s arrest that his course typically takes four years to complete. Halfway through, each cohort heads West for a summer residency in Minnesota “where they work on applied dissertation ideas with mentors and meet the top executives of notable local companies.”
Liu’s attorney told investigators the Minnesota student attempted to “extort” Liu for money. During a formal interview with the police, the woman said she wanted “money and an apology” and threatened to go to the media. In the recording released by police, an investigator asks Liu whether the woman said she did not want to have sex “at any time in the contact, when it became romantic?” To which Liu replied, “No, she didn’t say that.”
The following day, Liu arranged with his secretary to meet with the young woman. That’s when he was arrested on probable cause for sexual assault. Liu was booked and later released without being charged; last December, after a four-month investigation by police, authorities announced that Liu would not be charged with a crime because prosecutors “concluded it was highly unlikely criminal sexual conduct could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court,” according to local reports.
Liu has since returned to China.