BEIJING — Minneapolis police have finished their investigation into a rape allegation against Chinese billionaire Richard Qiangdong Liu and passed the high-profile case on to prosecutors, who are now studying the evidence before deciding whether to bring charges.
Liu, chief executive of JD.com, one of China’s largest online retailers, could face up to 30 years in prison if he is charged and convicted of the felony crime. His lawyers in Minnesota and e-commerce company in Beijing have maintained that Liu is innocent. But JD.com stock, which is listed in the United States, has tumbled 4 percent.
Minnesota authorities declined to comment further on the arrest. Liu has since returned to China.
Prosecutors will “review all of the evidence and make a decision on whether to bring charges,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office said in a statement. “There is no deadline for making that decision.”
The technology mogul, 45, was arrested Aug. 31 after a Chinese student at the University of Minnesota told authorities he had sexually assaulted her, according to the Wall Street Journal. The woman was part of a group dinner with Liu the night before at a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis, the newspaper reported.
Liu, who was in town for business classes at the University of Minnesota, was booked that Friday night into the Hennepin County Jail and released the next day without posting bail. Authorities declined to provide more details. A police report suggested officers had recorded body-camera footage of the arrest.
By Sept. 3, the celebrity businessman had returned to China — which does not have an extradition agreement with the United States — and to a packed schedule of business meetings, posing for photos with other executives in Beijing. His mug shot, meanwhile, went viral on Chinese social media.
Liu was last seen Tuesday in Wuhan, the capital city of the central province Hubei, in a meeting with senior officials to discuss the area’s development goals, according to local media reports.
The day before, however, he had skipped a scheduled appearance at an artificial intelligence conference in Shanghai, leading some observers to believe the normally gregarious executive was trying to lower his profile amid the scandal.
Charges against Liu are “highly unlikely,” his Minneapolis lawyers Earl Gray and Joseph Friedberg told The Washington Post in an email. They did not immediately respond to follow-up inquiries Friday.
The Chinese government has launched its own inquiry into Liu’s arrest, which is not unusual in a country where the Communist Party can shape the fate of even the wealthiest figures. (The movie star Fan Bingbing, for instance, has not been spotted in public for three months after officials accused her of tax evasion.)
Liu, who launched JD.com in 2004 after running a handful of brick-and-mortar computer stores, is now worth an estimated $7.5 billion. He holds almost 80 percent of the voting rights of JD.com — board members can’t even call a meeting without his presence, corporate documents show.
Liu’s personal life as a member of China’s tech elite and husband to Zhang Zetian, another Internet celebrity known as “Sister Milk Tea,” generates outsized social media chatter in the same way Tesla head Elon Musk grabs attention in the United States.
Analysts say the lurid spotlight on Liu — even if the charges are dropped — thrusts his future into a precarious position, since Chinese leadership has a reputation for resenting negative headlines. Irked officials can crank up the scrutiny on Liu and JD.com, ordering investigations into his dealings or pushing unfavorable editorials in state media.
“The Communist Party is very sensitive to how Americans perceive the country and dislikes scandals like this, which could affect to a small degree how Americans perceive Chinese,” said Isaac Stone Fish, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a Washington think tank.
The government could also feel pressure to repair its reputation for not taking seriously sexual misconduct concerns. Feminist activists have tried to spark more #MeToo dialogue in China, but the international movement has gained steam comparatively slowly in a country with a more pronounced sense of patriarchy. (Many job ads still openly seek “beautiful women.”)
Pressure from the public could make it harder for the government to brush off a case like Liu’s, said Simon Cousins, chief executive of Allegravita, a global public relations agency in Beijing.
“If the reforms and corrections that #MeToo advocates are demanding fail to materialize, the people will blame the government,” he said. “This will further erode the Communist Party’s prestige among the governed.”
But a common sentiment among Chinese social media users Friday continued to be: Liu was framed.
“To ruin the reputation of the CEO of a competitive listed company, to make its stock slump, and reduce its competitiveness, this is a common trick of American capitalists,” wrote Weibo user Liuanzhiting.
Liu’s arrest comes as JD.com, which reported a slim $18 million in profit last year on revenue of $55.7 billion, aims to expand into the United States market.
Google announced in June that it had invested $550 million in the company, which aims to compete with the likes of Amazon.com. Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.
Luna Lin and Yang Liu contributed to this report.