SYDNEY, Australia — A Chinese billionaire who had tried to distance himself from a sexual assault case that has gripped Australia for the past month was identified this week as Richard Liu, the chairman and chief executive of e-commerce giant JD.com.
Mr. Liu isn’t accused of any wrongdoing, but the assault was alleged to have taken place after a party that he had hosted in Sydney in 2015. He had tried to get a court in the Australian city to prevent the release of his name by citing potential damage to his marriage and business, court documents show.
That effort failed on Friday when a judge refused his request for a suppression order, with Australian media naming him on Monday.
For Mr. Liu, the founder of one of China’s largest internet companies, the details of the case are fraught with potential peril, both for himself and, by extension, the company with which he is synonymous in China. It offers a rare glimpse of the high-flying lifestyle Chinese business leaders have sought to keep private.
While many of China’s tech elite own multimillion dollar properties around the world, like the Sydney penthouse where the 2015 party took place, exposure of those holdings is considered risky.
China’s president Xi Jinping has cracked down on signs of conspicuous consumption and also guided the country’s ruling Communist Party to a new primacy in everyday life. Decadent dinner parties tend to be seen as undermining the spirit of those efforts.
The publication of Mr. Liu’s name in connection with the case came as a guest at the December 2015 party, Longwei Xu, was convicted of sexual assault. Mr. Xu, a property development professional also known as “Tommy”, was on Monday found guilty of seven charges, including having sex with his accuser without her consent.
The woman, a model, arrived at the party at Mr. Liu’s apartment, which has sweeping views of the Sydney harbor, with Mr. Xu, whom she had met that night, according to news reports.
She reportedly told the court that some men at the party, but not Mr. Liu, had given her so much alcohol that she became drunk and could barely walk. According to her, Mr. Xu had offered to take her home but instead walked her back to his hotel room.
“When he attempted to rape me, Tommy said that he would buy a boat for me, but I refused,” Fairfax Media reported the woman as saying via audiovisual link through an interpreter. Mr. Xu had denied sexually assaulting the woman.
Mr. Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, has not been charged with any crime or accused of any wrongdoing. A JD.com spokesman said that Mr. Liu had “expressed his deep sympathy for the victim and profound sadness about the incident.”
“As the judge clearly stated, Mr. Liu is not implicated in any way,” the spokesman added. “He was preparing food for the guests throughout the evening and was not present for most of the dinner. Further, the perpetrator was a casual acquaintance, and the crime was committed later that evening at a separate location.”
The original application for a suppression order on Mr. Liu’s name was made to a judge in the New South Wales District Court on the grounds it could damage, among other things, his business. The judge ultimately decided that it was not in the public interest for the order to be issued.
The 44-year old Mr. Liu founded JD.com in the early days of Chinese e-commerce, and grew it to massive scale, in part by investing heavily in logistics to ensure that packages get delivered quickly and in good condition. The company is now worth about $50 billion and is locked in a fierce competition for customers’ attention with its better-known rival Alibaba.
Mr. Liu is married to the now 24-year old Chinese internet celebrity Zhang Zetian, who is better known in China as Sister Milk Tea. Ms. Zhang rose to fame when, as a 16-year old, a photo of her drinking tea in a high-school classroom went viral along with a love letter addressed to her on social media.
Orignially published in NYT.