Earlier this month, the CEO of one of China’s most high-profile tech companies was arrested in the US after a woman accused him of rape. Richard Liu, chief of e-commerce giant JD.com, was released hours later and returned to China while authorities in the US investigate the case. The company has denied any wrongdoing.
Though details about the case were initially vague, a new report from Reuters is painting a picture of the events leading up to and after the alleged attack. It also offers the perspective of Liu’s accuser, a 21-year-old student attending the University of Minnesota, whose WeChat messages have been reviewed by the news agency. The report emerged shortly after US prosecutors took over the case on Thursday (Sept. 20).
“I was not willing,” read a message the woman wrote in Chinese to multiple friends on Aug. 31 around 2am, about an hour after she was allegedly raped. “Tomorrow I will think of a way to escape.”
The woman had asked a friend not to report the alleged attack to the police because Liu would “suppress it,” she said. “You underestimate his power.” Another friend ended up reporting it.
JD.com referred requests for comment to Liu’s US lawyer, Jill Brisbois. She said it was “unfair for Reuters to publish a one-sided story right now when the case is still open and prosecutors are still considering the case.”
Liu, who’s estimated to be worth $6.3 billion, is among a list of prominent Chinese men—including charity leaders, writers, and a Buddhist monk—who have been embroiled by allegations of sexual harassment as the #MeToo movement sweeps the country.
His case in particular has fascinated Chinese internet users, some of whom have done their own investigation of social-media posts and photos in an attempt to learn the identity of the woman and the events that transpired that night. The Reuters report has now become the top search term (link in Chinese) on Chinese social network Weibo as of this writing, with more than 2 million people searching for related reports.
Their previous sleuthing had led them to identify a woman with the surname Jiang as Liu’s accuser. After that, people began to dig into her social-media accounts to surface photos of Jiang in tight clothing and compare her to Liu’s wife, Zhang Zetian, a 24-year-old internet celebrity known as “Sister Milk Tea.” Jiang had denied (link in Chinese) she was Liu’s accuser.
According to Reuters, Liu, who is attending a business doctoral program at the university, met the female student at a party he threw on Aug. 30 in a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis. Of the two dozen or so guests, about 20 of them were men. The group brought at least one case of wine to drink during the dinner, and the woman told her friend through WeChat that she felt pressure to drink that evening. “It was a trap,” she wrote. “I was really drunk.”
When the party ended around 9:30pm, Liu and the woman headed to a house rented by one of his classmates before he pulled her into his hired car. They then headed to the woman’s apartment. During the drive, Liu began touching the woman. “Then I begged him not to… but he did not listen,” according to WeChat messages she sent her friend. Liu reportedly raped the woman around 1am.
Liu has not been charged. A felony rape in Minnesota carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $40,000.
Update: The piece has been updated with comment from Richard Liu’s US lawyer.