Richard Liu, billionaire, founder and chief executive officer of Inc., listens during an event. (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg) CEO's Release From Jail Suggests Police Lacked Proof

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese billionaire Liu Qiangdong flew home to China not long after his arrest in Minnesota on suspicion of rape, raising questions about why he was freed so quickly. But criminal defense lawyers say his departure is a sign that the case probably wasn’t what it seemed.

Liu, chief executive officer of Inc., China’s second-biggest e-commerce business, was released about 16 hours after his arrest Friday. The reason for his detention was originally disclosed only as “criminal sexual conduct." The police later released a report that specified the suspected offense as “criminal sexual conduct - rape - completed.” CEO's Release From Jail Suggests Police Lacked Proof

Then, just as abruptly as the case started, Liu was released without travel restrictions and got on an airplane home. John Elder, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department, said the investigation is in its early stages and officers are confident they can reach Liu again if necessary, even though China has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

Under Minnesota law, police can hold a suspect for 36 hours, not counting Sundays and holidays, without filing charges. Even after police decide there’s probable cause to arrest someone, prosecutors may later determine there isn’t enough evidence to proceed, meaning they don’t believe they can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, according to Gerald Lefcourt, a criminal defense attorney in Manhattan.

"Obviously, something happened after this arrest that had prosecutors thinking this wasn’t a case at all -- either something the arrestee said or the complainant said," Lefcourt said. "Things like this aren’t typical, something had to have happened after the arrest."

The Minneapolis police has been the focus of a series of articles by the Star Tribune this summer, a special report dubbed "Denied Justice," that examines the way sexual assault case are investigated. The paper said its review of more than 1,000 cases filed during a two-year period found police never assigned an investigator in a quarter of them, the victim was never interviewed in one-third, and no potential witnesses were interviewed in half. Fewer than one in 10 resulted in a conviction, the paper said.

The University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis police in recent years have both dealt with high-profile questions about how they handle rape allegations. The university accused 10 Golden Gophers football players of sexual misconduct related to a gang-rape investigation of a female student in 2016. Ultimately none was charged and nine are now suing the school for punishing them for the incident they said involved consensual sex.

University Comment

“You’d be hard pressed to find a university that’s been as proactive as the University of Minnesota in this space,” said spokesman Chuck Tombarge. “While we have certainly had challenges here and there, and take this issue very seriously, we are also doing a lot of things to improve the culture and ensure our campus community is equipped to both prevent sexual misconduct of any kind and respond appropriately and promptly when and if it occurs.”

Liu is a student in the university’s Carlson School of Management and was in Minneapolis to complete the American residency of a U.S.-China business administration doctorate program. The Twin Cities program is one of scores that cater to a fast-rising Chinese demographic: senior executives.

Given Liu’s wealth and high-profile status, it’s likely that the decision to release him was made jointly and strategically by police and prosecutors, said Jon Barooshian, a former Massachusetts state prosecutor who’s now a white-collar criminal defense attorney.

"I think the simple answer is that the police did not believe they had enough evidence to charge him with a crime," Barooshian said. "To force him to stay in the United States, the authorities would need to charge him with a crime, bring him before a judge for arraignment, and ask the court to impose conditions for release such as bail" and surrender of his passport.

Elder, the police spokesman, said it’s normal for the agency to release suspects if an investigation is expected to be protracted, as this one could be. It would be especially intrusive to take Liu’s passport or restrict his travel because the U.S. isn’t his home and he hasn’t been formally charged, he added.

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