University of Minnesota student told police she pleaded with billionaire, ‘I don’t want to do that’
While the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office assesses whether to charge Chinese billionaire Richard Liu with sexual assault, his alleged victim has told police he raped her in her apartment after a night of drinking as she pleaded with him to stop, the Star Tribune has learned.
News of Liu’s arrest more than two months ago made headlines across the world and especially in China, where he is an internet entrepreneur and one of the country’s wealthiest men. Few details of what happened that night have been made public, and Minneapolis police have declined to discuss the case. The County Attorney’s Office has not set a timeline for when it will make a decision.
The Star Tribune has reviewed text messages, portions of the 21-year-old alleged victim’s interviews with police, and other documents that piece together her account of the night leading up to Liu’s arrest, which occurred when he was studying in an elite doctoral program for Chinese executives at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
Liu, 45, also known as Liu Qiangdong, is the founder of Beijing-based JD.com, an e-commerce site similar to Amazon with more than 300 million customers. Liu has an estimated net worth of $5.4 billion.
“I’m a normal student,” the alleged victim begged Liu, according to an account she gave police regarding the Aug. 31 incident, shared by a source with the Star Tribune. “You have a family. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do this.”
“He didn’t listen to me,” she would go on to tell police.
The alleged victim, a native of China, is studying business and hoping to obtain a doctorate. Her Florida-based attorney, Wil Florin, who also has an office in Bloomington, said she has fully cooperated with police and “stands ready to cooperate with the county attorney.”
Liu returned to China shortly after his release from jail. Jill Brisbois, a Minneapolis attorney who represents Liu, said that her client committed no wrongdoing.
“Richard maintains his innocence, has cooperated fully with the investigation, and was quickly released by police without any restriction on his travel and without being required to post bail,” Brisbois said in a statement this week. “We believe his innocence will be apparent once a determination has been made and all evidence is disclosed to the public.”
The Star Tribune reviewed text messages the alleged victim sent from her apartment near campus.
“I didn’t do it willingly … I want to escape,” she texted a friend in Mandarin, adding that Liu was in her bed. “I couldn’t escape. How could I know that Qiangdong Liu would come to mess with me. I’m just a normal girl. I’m not eyeing anyone’s deep pocket. I repeatedly begged him not to touch me.”
‘I told him no’
In 2017, the Carlson School launched its four-year doctoral program for Chinese executives in collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing. It’s described by the U as a professional degree program for high-level executives in China and is “tailored for top executives in Chinese business.” Students pay an average of $75,000 to the Carlson School to attend the four-year program.
So far, 236 executives have enrolled in the program with an average age of 50, with 20 years of work experience. While most of the classes are taught at Tsinghua, summer residency programs take place in Minneapolis. Liu was among a group that was in town that week in late August. In addition to classes, the U hosted social events, university documents show. On Aug. 30, the doctoral students attended a morning class on “global branding,” followed by a visit to General Mills. The U then arranged for them to attend the Gophers’ first football game of the season, along with a buffet dinner at TCF Bank Stadium.
Instead, Liu, through an assistant, paid for a dinner for himself and about 15 of his classmates and fellow executives at Origami, a Japanese restaurant in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, a source said.
According to a source’s account of that night:
The alleged victim, who was one of 10 student volunteers, was asked to join the executives at the dinner, which she was told was held to honor the volunteers. She agreed, but then discovered on the day of the dinner she was the only volunteer invited, so she received permission to allow a male friend and fellow volunteer to join her.
About 20 people attended the dinner, including the male executives, the alleged victim, her friend and the executives’ three female assistants.
According to the source, she was seated at the end of the executives’ table, next to Liu. The assistants and her friend sat at another table.
Florin, the alleged victim’s lawyer, confirmed that she attended a dinner where the liquor flowed.
“The executives toasted each other and repeatedly toasted my client,” Florin said. “She felt coerced to drink and acknowledge their toasts and became intoxicated.”
Florin said that twice during the night, one of Liu’s assistants asked her male friend to accompany her to go out and buy more wine. Receipts from a nearby liquor store provided to the Star Tribune show they spent more than $3,600 on 32 bottles of wine.
The source said that at some point during the evening, the alleged victim’s male friend received a phone call to accompany another Chinese executive to dinner a half-hour’s drive from Origami, and he left.
After the dinner at Origami, the source said that the alleged victim wanted to go home and asked one of Liu’s assistants to summon her a car from a ride service. She walked out of the restaurant as Liu’s driver pulled up in a black SUV. She thought it was the ride service and got in the vehicle, the source said, and Liu got in behind her.
The source said that with Liu’s assistant in the front seat, the driver took them to an ivy-covered mansion in south Minneapolis. She got out and realized that she was unfamiliar with where she was. She reiterated her desire to go home, and resisted going inside. After a brief confrontation they got back in the SUV.
“He dragged me into the vehicle,” she later wrote in a text message to a friend. “He started to make physical advances inside the vehicle. I begged him to stop but he didn’t listen. …”
A source said that at about 11 p.m. the limo driver pulled up at the woman’s apartment complex near the university. She got out and Liu followed her, telling the driver and the assistant he would be right back, she would tell police. The woman unlocked her apartment door and Liu followed inside.
Inside the apartment, she told police, he pulled off her sweater over her protests. She said that Liu told her she could be just like Wendi Deng, the Chinese-born ex-wife of Australian media executive Rupert Murdoch.
“I told him ‘no’ several times,” she told police. She also told police that he tried to pull off her skirt and bra, held her arms and tried to throw her onto her bed.
“We were battling against each other on the bed and finally I escaped from him and went back to the living room and put the bra back on again,” she said in the interview. “Finally, he just threw me onto the bed. He was on me. He was heavy. I tried to push him away. But he was on top of me … and then he raped me.”
Afterward, the woman chronicled to friends what happened in text messages over WeChat, a Chinese social messaging system.
“Liu Qiangdong is in my bed,” she wrote at 2:05 a.m. Friday “He forcibly took me away last night and couldn’t escape,” she wrote in a second message.
“I was slept by him,” she wrote, the Mandarin idiom for being raped. “I didn’t do it willingly … I want to escape.”
“What can he do to you if you call the police?” one friend asked.
“He is going to exercise his power. You underestimate him,” the alleged victim wrote. “Don’t call the police.”
According to a source, the 21-year-old also sent a text to the male friend who had accompanied her that night, telling him of the sexual assault. He drove to her apartment complex and called 911 from outside.
When police arrived at the apartment at about 3 a.m., they placed Liu in a patrol car and questioned him, but the alleged victim told police said she did not want them to investigate. Rather than arrest Liu, police drove him to the Ivy Hotel, where he had a penthouse suite, a source said.
Friends eventually convinced the alleged victim to go to the hospital for a sexual assault exam, and accompanied her there, the source said.
Florin, the alleged victim’s attorney, said that over the course of Friday, staffers with the U’s doctoral program learned of the alleged rape. Police were called, and on Friday evening they met with the victim on campus, where she gave a statement.
Liu, meanwhile, also arrived at the Carlson School on Friday evening, unaware that police were there. He was arrested and taken to the Hennepin County jail.
The source said that the alleged victim, still fearful, remained unwilling to pursue an investigation and Liu was released on Saturday. But by Saturday evening, after more discussions with friends, she made a final decision to pursue a case against Liu, and again reached out to police. The following day, Liu returned to China.
Awaiting a decision
University of Minnesota spokeswoman Caitlin Hurley has declined to discuss the allegations.
“The University of Minnesota cannot comment, per Federal law, on matters related to any specific allegations involving any student at the University of Minnesota,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Brisbois, one of Liu’s attorneys, also reiterated that she could not discuss the case.
“We are not at liberty to discuss this investigation nor share evidence with the media right now because we respect and do not want to interfere with the judicial process, Brisbois said via e-mail. It is unfair for the Star Tribune to publish a one-sided story when the prosecutors are still considering the case.”
Darcy Horn, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis Police, declined to comment, referring questions to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.