Lawyers for a University of Minnesota student who claims she was raped by Chinese billionaire Richard Liu have locked horns with Liu’s attorneys, who want to dismiss a portion of the woman’s lawsuit that accuses his company of having a role in the alleged assault.
The woman’s lawyers are also having trouble serving the suit on Liu himself. He has not been back in the United States since August 2018, when he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting the student, Liu Jingyao. Richard Liu, who is not related to her, was released the same weekend as the incident, and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman later announced he would not be charged.
The woman, a Chinese national attending the U’s Carlson School of Management, alleges Richard Liu got her drunk at a business party at a Minneapolis restaurant, fondled her in a limo and then raped her at her apartment. Liu denies he was responsible for her inebriation and claimed the sex was consensual.
Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, is CEO and founder of JD.com, an e-commerce site similar to Amazon. Forbes magazine lists his net worth at $7.8 billion, making him the world’s 40th richest person.
The woman’s lawyers, in documents filed this month in Hennepin County District Court, claimed “Liu’s sexual advance and attacks were enabled and coordinated by additional agents and employees of JD.com.”
It says Liu, who was studying for a doctorate in business in a special program at the university for Chinese executives, and his company hosted a dinner party with other Chinese executives designed to target the student, who was 21 at the time. Liu was 45. The suit claims he was aided by two of his assistants from JD.com, Alice Zhang and Vivian Yang. Yang allegedly bought $3,600 worth of alcohol at a nearby liquor store for the party and Zhang accompanied the 21-year-old in the limo where Liu allegedly groped her.
Peter Walsh, a Minneapolis attorney representing JD.com, said in court documents that the alleged sexual assault did not occur within “work-related limits of time and place,” which he said would be essential in making the company liable. He said it occurred “in a private residence, in the middle of the night after the plaintiff admittedly allowed Liu into her apartment, and outside of the presence and without knowledge of anyone else.” He wrote that Minnesota courts generally construed work-related limits of time and place to working hours and work events.
But the woman’s attorneys argue that the plan for the assault began at a JD.com event and that Liu directed Zhang to wait outside the apartment building during the alleged assault.
Wil Florin, one the woman’s attorneys, said his team was unable to serve the suit on J.D.com’s U.S. firm in California because the company said it was separate from the Chinese firm. Instead, they served the papers to JD.com in the Cayman Islands, where it is incorporated.
The suit also names Liu personally. Florin said Jill Brisbois, Liu’s Minneapolis attorney, refused to accept the suit on Liu’s behalf.
Hennepin District Judge Edward Wahl ordered that the suit be served to Liu through the Hague Convention treaty most countries have entered into to ensure citizens are served notice of a foreign suit. Florin said the suit was given to a ministry in China to serve Liu, but doubts it’s been served.
“We are asking the judge to allow service on Brisbois or the lawyers of JD.com at local levels,” Florin said. “If Liu is really confident in his innocence, why won’t he voluntarily subject himself to the jurisdiction of the court?”
Brisbois referred any questions about the suit to Dan Bank, a media spokesman, who added no further comment.