Minneapolis police on Thursday turned over the rape case against Chinese e-commerce tycoon Liu Qiangdong to prosecutors for possible charges, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
The announcement doesn’t necessarily mean that charges are imminent. In a news release, county prosecutors said they would “review all of the evidence and make a decision on whether to bring charges,” without offering a timeline. They declined further comment.
Liu, who also goes by Richard Liu, was arrested in Minneapolis on Aug. 31 on suspicion of rape and booked into the county jail. He was released 18 hours later without posting bail and with little explanation, even though authorities have 36 hours to hold someone before filing charges. Liu returned to China shortly thereafter.
He has denied wrongdoing through his local attorneys. One of his lawyers, Earl Gray, declined to comment about the announcement.
The case has drawn widespread interest, particularly in his native China, where his company, JD.com, has taken aim at other e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and Amazon. The company’s shares dipped after news of his arrest spread, while several U.S. law firms threatened class-action lawsuits against JD.com, contending that the company had failed to disclose information pertinent to its investors.
The company, which has more than 300 million customers, said in a statement released on the Chinese social media site Weibo shortly after the arrest that Liu was falsely accused while on a business trip.
So far, the case has been shrouded in secrecy, in part because of the sensitive nature of investigations of sexual assault allegations.
Police Department spokesman John Elder said that Liu was treated no differently than any other suspect.
“His net worth had nothing to do with this,” Elder said. “We had an accuser, we had a person who was accused — dollars don’t mean anything here.”
He added that although Liu wasn’t asked to relinquish his passport and almost immediately left the country, police were “confident” that Liu would return if criminal charges were to be brought.
“The investigators felt that, in fact, we would be able to release him — we were confident that we would be able to connect with him in the investigation,” he said. “We were aware that he wasn’t going to be sticking around, so there wasn’t going to be any concern to the victim.”
Liu was in Minneapolis as a student in the U’s Carlson School of Management doctor of business administration China program, which is offered in partnership with a university in Beijing, the university confirmed. Program participants were in the Twin Cities from Aug. 26 through Sept. 1 as part of a summer residency.
A U spokeswoman said via e-mail earlier this week that the university was barred from commenting on “any specific allegation involving any student.” She referred further questions to city police.
A source confirmed that the alleged victim was a Chinese student at the U, but circumstances surrounding the alleged assault remain hazy.
Liu frequently talks up his rags-to-riches story — from growing up poor in China’s eastern Jiangsu province to building up his firm, also known as “Jingdong,” into China’s second-largest e-commerce player behind Alibaba. Forbes estimates his net worth to be $7.9 billion.
Liu has forged a reputation for running a “clean” company, cracking down on counterfeit goods and corruption, but it’s his private life that has made headlines in recent months.
Liu, who is married to Chinese internet celebrity Zhang Zetian, lost a court battle in Australia earlier this year to keep his name out of a rape trial in which a woman who attended one of his lavish parties accused another guest of sexually assaulting her at a hotel. Liu wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, but the suspect was found guilty of seven offenses.
Reuters reported that Liu bowed out of a major tech forum in Shanghai this week, but a spokeswoman did not give the news agency a reason why. Since returning to China, Liu has appeared at small signing events on behalf of the company, but the forum would have been the first high-profile public event he had attended since his arrest.
Reuters contributed to this report.