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Chinese billionaire returns home after arrest in the US for ‘assaulting woman’

Liu Qiangdong was arrested for allegedly assaulting a Chinese student in the University of Minnesota.

world Updated: Sep 03, 2018 23:34 IST
Liu Qiangdong,China,China billionaires
Chinese billionaire Liu Qiangdong, also known as Richard Liu, the founder of the Beijing-based e-commerce site JD.com, who was arrested in Minneapolis on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct, jail records show. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP)(AP)

One of China’s richest businessmen, Liu Qiangdong, has returned home after his arrest for alleged sexual misconduct in the US over the weekend, with the foreign ministry here saying on Monday it is “closely following” the matter.

Liu Qiangdong, who uses the English name Richard, is the billionaire founder of e-commerce giant JD.com. He was brought in by police in Minnesota late on Friday on an accusation of “criminal sexual conduct” and released more than 16 hours later, according to arrest records.

A Minneapolis police department spokesman declined to provide further details about the reasons for the arrest, adding authorities decided not to keep Liu in custody. No travel restrictions were imposed on him while police conducted their investigation.

The state-run media remained mostly silent on the matter but social media was abuzz with hundreds of thousands of users discussing and dissecting the case.

Reports in China suggested 44-year-old Liu, who is worth $8 billion, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a Chinese student at the University of Minnesota.

The foreign ministry said it is looking into the circumstances surrounding Liu’s arrest. The Chinese consulate in Chicago is “closely following the relevant situation” and trying to verify facts regarding the matter, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Monday.

A Minneapolis police department spokesperson said over the weekend the investigation was “active” but Liu hadn’t been charged. “We are confident that we will be able to get in touch with him as the time becomes necessary,” the spokesperson told the media.

The website of Hennepin county in Minnesota said Liu was released from custody on Saturday.

JD.com denied the charge against Liu. JD.com’s CEO was “wrongly charged with sexual assault during a business trip in the US”, the company said on its official Sina Weibo account.

“Such allegations about Liu Qiangdong sexually assaulting female students are inaccurate, and the CEO will continue his trip in the US as planned,” said the statement, adding JD.com will take legal action against “false reports and rumor mongering”.

Liu is registered as a student of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management’s doctor of business administration China programme.

Police in the US haven’t released the name of the complainant but Chinese social media users circulated photos of a young woman whom they said was the victim.

The development remained Weibo’s (Chinese Twitter) “hot topic” since Sunday.

“Born into a poor farming family in northern Jiangsu province, Liu is arguably less well-known outside China than his fellow billionaire countrymen like Alibaba Group Holding’s Jack Ma Yun, Tencent Holdings’ Pony Ma Huateng and Baidu’s Robin Li Yanhong, who recently made the cover of Time magazine,” Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

Liu began his e-commerce business after he was forced to shut down a computer shop in Beijing when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck China, forcing people to stay indoors for weeks.

His wife, Zhang Zetian, some 19 years younger, is a businesswomen and internet celebrity. At 24, she became China’s youngest female billionaire in 2017. Zhang gained instant fame on the internet in 2009 – while still in school – when her photo in which she was holding a cup of milk tea went viral. Since then, she is popularly known as “sister milk tea”.

First Published: Sep 03, 2018 17:54 IST