In wake of fresh rape claims, scrutiny of JD founder Richard Liu intensifies

2 min read
The exterior of online retailer JD’s Beijing headquarters, pictured here in November 2018. (Image credit: Cassidy McDonald/TechNode).

Troubled Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com faced a fresh setback as the student who accused JD.com founder Richard Liu of rape in August filed a civil lawsuit against the billionaire on Tuesday.

The lawsuit comes nearly four months after Minnesota prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges. JD.com is also named as a defendant.

JD did not provide comment on the new lawsuit but referred TechNode to a statement from its lawyers.

“We are not in a position to comment at this time, but we will vigorously defend these meritless claims against the company,” Peter Walsh from Hogan Lovells, counsel for JD.com, told TechNode.

Just as the dust stirred up by August accusations against Liu had started to settle, the lawsuit sparked another round of discussion on Chinese social media—only this time with a slight shift in focus.

Before Liu’s arrest, the market was relatively bullish on JD.com, with Nasdaq-listed share reaching a high point of $43 in June.

Netizen reactions when the rape allegations originally emerged reflected the public’s empathy for Liu’s wife Zhang Zetian, an internet celebrity, as well as criticism for Liu. He later admitted to cheating on his wife.

This time around, Chinese netizens’ concerns seem primarily aimed at the company. Recently JD has been featuring prominently in the news as rumors of layoffs, pay cuts, and management reshuffles proliferate against a backdrop of an uncertain economic climate in China.

Questions about Liu’s fitness to head JD.com have also resurfaced.

Dongge for the success, Dongge for the failure, Dongge can consider resigning from JD,” said a netizen using the handle, Anne, on microblogging site Weibo, referring to a nickname that translates into “Brother Dong,” shorthand for Liu’s first name, Qiangdong.

Liu’s alleged victim, University of Minnesota student Liu Jingyao, is seeking damages of more than $50,000. This is the first time the student’s name has been revealed.

Some Weibo object to the release of the identity of the alleged victim. “It’s not cool to reveal the girl’s name, no matter what,” says Weibo user with the handle, YimiaoS.

Others saw significance in the amount of damages sought. “The girl is not claiming a big sum, this might reflect her stance in the case—it is going to be settled with money. It will take a long time for Liu and JD to settle the matter,” said Weibo user Bao Manman.