JD.com’s billionaire founder Richard Liu back in China after US arrest
JD.com founder Richard Liu Qiangdong has returned to China after being arrested for alleged sexual misconduct in Minnesota, where he was attending a business programme
JD.com founder Richard Liu Qiangdong has returned to China after the 45-year-old billionaire was arrested and subsequently released in the US for alleged sexual misconduct.
“We were informed that our CEO Richard Qiangdong Liu was taken into custody by Minneapolis police on August 31, 2018,” JD.com said in a statement on Monday. “He has been released without any charges, and without requirement for bail. Mr Liu has returned to work in China.”
The e-commerce giant and Liu, the company’s chairman and chief executive, were among the hottest topics on Chinese social media following reports of that incident. According to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s arrest records, Liu was brought in at 11:32pm on August 31 and released the next day at 4:05pm on probable cause for criminal sexual conduct. In Minnesota, the term covers a range of non-consensual sexual contact.
China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that it was looking into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Liu. The Chinese Consulate in Chicago was “closely following the relevant situation” and trying to verify facts regarding the situation, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news conference.
Nasdaq-listed JD.com’s share price was among the top topics on Weibo on Monday, with more than 600,000 searches as of 2pm on Monday. Its shares have declined 24 per cent this year, compared with a 17 per cent gain in the Nasdaq Composite Index. Trading in the US is closed for Labour Day.
The investigation is ongoing, but the police have not imposed any travel restrictions on Liu, according to Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder. Liu was in the US to attend the residency component of a business-education programme conducted by the University of Minnesota.
Police have not outlined specific accusations against Liu, said Joseph Friedberg, who JD.com confirmed as representing the billionaire. Friedberg said his team was now awaiting details from the authorities before deciding on the next steps. He would not elaborate further.
“No one has told him or us what the accusations are,” Friedberg said. “If he were to be charged – and I don’t think there is any possibility of that – he would certainly come back to face charges.”
Liu, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, tried to distance himself from a sexual assault case against a guest at a 2015 party held at his penthouse in downtown Sydney.
A guest at that party, Xu Longwei, was convicted in July of this year for sexually assaulting a fellow guest at a hotel after the party. There was no accusation of any misconduct by Liu, but the billionaire lost a legal attempt to keep his name out of the records in Australia.
Beijing-based JD.com has been expanding outside China as it follows other mainland companies in building an overseas wing to its e-commerce business. The company signed on Google as a strategic partner in June, selling a stake of less than 1 per cent for US$550 million and joining Google Shopping, an advertising platform for online merchants. It has set its eyes on Southeast Asia, having backed start-ups in Thailand and Indonesia.
As part of JD.com’s efforts to raise its international profile, Liu made his first appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this year. He told a lunch of about 50 people his life story and how he came to start and build JD.com.
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. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.
Liu got his start in business opening a counter store in Beijing selling computer parts. He had to shut it down in 2003 after Severe acute respiratory syndrome struck China, causing people to stay at home for fear of catching the deadly disease.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and AP