It was meant to be one of the most significant #MeToo trials China had ever seen, set to play out on the other side of the world in the US state of Minnesota.
The defendant was a 49-year-old billionaire called the “Jeff Bezos of China“. The accuser was a 25-year-old Chinese graduate student who said he sexually assaulted her.
The civil trial would play out in an open court – nearly impossible in China, but the reality in this case, as the trial would take place in Hennepin County, Minnesota, where the offence allegedly happened.
But in a stunning twist of events on the eve of their court battle, Richard Liu – better known to the Chinese as Liu Qiangdong – and Liu Jingyao have agreed on a settlement, averting trial.
The two are not related; Liu is a typical Chinese surname.
A statement released on Saturday night by lawyers for both parties said the incident “resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and brought profound suffering to the parties and their families”.
“Today, the parties agreed to set aside their differences and settle their legal dispute to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit.”
Details of the settlement have not been made public.
The news has surprised many in China and dominated Chinese social media, where within hours, related hashtags racked up hundreds of millions of views and comments on Weibo.
Millions of Chinese were planning to closely watch the trial unfold in a more transparent legal system than in China. Some experts believed that Liu Jingyao stood a better chance at winning in the US.
Now, with a settlement made behind closed doors, the case is likely to prompt even more speculation and add to the uncertainty of China’s beleaguered MeToo movement.