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Chinese tycoon Richard Liu faces civil trial in alleged rape

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Chinese tycoon Richard Liu faces civil trial in alleged rape

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Chinese billionaire, one of the richest people in the world, is heading to trial in Minneapolis to defend himself against allegations that he raped a former University of Minnesota student after a night of dinner and drinks in 2018.

Richard Liu, the founder and former CEO of e-commerce giant JD.com, has denied raping the woman, and prosecutors did not file criminal charges. The woman, Jingyao Liu, sued in civil court, alleging she was coerced to drink before Richard Liu groped her in a limousine and raped her in her apartment.

Both are expected to testify, and it will be up to a jury to decide who is telling the truth. Jury selection starts Thursday, with opening statements Monday.

“I think our client’s credibility is one of the strongest parts of what the jury is going to hear,” said Wil Florin, an attorney for Jingyao Liu. “The incredible courage and fortitude that this young lady has shown is truly admirable.”

Diane Doolittle, an attorney for Richard Liu, said that the woman has changed her story and that the evidence will clear her client’s name.

“We are looking forward to presenting the evidence, presenting the truth, so that the world will know that Mr. Liu is fully and completely innocent of these allegations against him,” she said.

The woman alleges the attack happened in 2018 while Richard Liu was in Minneapolis for a weeklong residency in the University of Minnesota’s doctor of business administration China program, geared toward high-level executives in China.

Jingyao Liu, a Chinese citizen, was at the university on a student visa and was a volunteer in the program at the time. The Associated Press does not generally name people alleging sexual assault, but Jingyao Liu has agreed to be identified publicly.

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Richard Liu and Jingyao Liu are not related. Jingyao Liu was 21 at the time; Richard Liu was 46.

Richard Liu is a celebrity in China, part of a generation of entrepreneurs who created the country’s internet, e-commerce, mobile phone and other technology industries since the late 1990s. Forbes estimated his wealth at $11.5 billion.

Richard Liu, who stepped down as CEO of JD.com this year amid increased government scrutiny of China’s technology industry, was arrested on suspicion of felony rape, but prosecutors never filed criminal charges, saying the case had “profound evidentiary problems.”

Jingyao Liu sued Richard Liu and JD.com in 2019, alleging sexual assault and battery, along with false imprisonment.

The case drew widespread attention at a time when the #MeToo movement was gaining traction in China. Richard Liu’s supporters and opponents waged aggressive public relations campaigns on Chinese social media; censors shut down some accounts that supported Jingyao Liu for “violating regulations.”

Jingyao Liu says in her lawsuit that she had to withdraw from classes in fall 2018 and seek counseling and treatment. Her attorney says she has since graduated but has post-traumatic stress disorder. She seeks compensatory damages to cover medical bills, emotional distress and pain and suffering, and Judge Edward Wahl ruled she could also seek punitive damages from Richard Liu.

She is seeking more than $50,000, a standard figure that must be listed in Minnesota if a plaintiff intends to seek anything above that amount. She is expected to ask a jury to award much more.

According to the lawsuit, on the night of the alleged attack, Richard Liu and other executives went to a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis, and one of the men invited Jingyao Liu at Richard Liu’s request. Jingyao Liu felt coerced to drink as the powerful men toasted her, and Richard Liu said she would dishonor him if she did not join in, she said in her lawsuit.

According to text messages reviewed by The Associated Press and Jingyao Liu’s interviews with police, she said that after the dinner, Richard Liu pulled her into a limousine and groped her despite her protests. She said he raped her at her apartment. She texted a friend: “I begged him don’t. But he didn’t listen.”

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After police went to her apartment, Jingyao Liu told one officer, “I was raped but not that kind of rape,” according to police. When asked to explain, she changed the subject and said Richard Liu was famous and she was afraid. She told the officer that the sex was “spontaneous” and that she did not want police to get involved.

Officers released Richard Liu because “it was unclear if a crime had actually taken place,” according to police. In an interview later with an investigator, Richard Liu said that the sex was consensual and that the woman “enjoyed the whole process very much.”

According to police, Jingyao Liu told a sergeant she wanted to talk with Richard Liu’s attorney and threatened to go to the media if she did not. Richard Liu’s former attorney recorded the phone call, in which Jingyao Liu said that she didn’t want the case to be in the newspaper and that “I just need payment money and apologize and that’s all.”

That phone call will be allowed as evidence in the trial. The jurors will also be told that they may presume any electronic messages deleted by Jingyao Liu contained information unfavorable to her. Both pretrial rulings were considered wins for the defense.

Surveillance videos from the restaurant, its exterior and the halls of the woman’s apartment complex will be shown at trial. Richard Liu’s attorneys have said the video shows that Jingyao Liu does not appear to be intoxicated or in distress, as she initially claimed, and that she changed her story after the video surfaced.

She says in her lawsuit that she went to her apartment building with Richard Liu to be polite, and that she believed he was simply walking her to the door. Florin, Jingyao Liu’s attorney, intends to play body camera video from police that he says shows his client feared Richard Liu because he is powerful.

“Insanely wealthy men, they always have the card that they play: ‘Well, I’m being accused of this because I’m wealthy,’” Florin said.

“What happened that night was an evening of consensual sex,” Doolittle, one of Richard Liu’s attorneys, said. “Mr. Liu regrets that, and he regrets being unfaithful to his wife.”

The burden of proof is lower than in a criminal trial, and jurors need only find a preponderance of evidence in either side’s favor, said Chris Madel, a Minneapolis attorney who isn’t involved in the case.

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If jurors proceed to considering punitive damages, that portion of the case requires a different standard of proof. To award punitive damages, jurors must find “clear and convincing evidence” that Richard Liu “deliberately disregarded the rights or safety of others,” Madel said.

After cases like this, Madel said, no matter how much evidence is presented, jurors will typically say: “We just listened to him, we listened to her, and we made our minds up.”

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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