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JD.com CEO will not face assault charges in Minnesota

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(Reuters) – Minnesota prosecutors will not charge the billionaire chief executive officer of China’s JD.com Inc, Richard Liu, after he was accused of rape by a University of Minnesota student during a recent U.S. visit, authorities said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: JD.com founder Richard Liu poses during a Reuters interview in Hong Kong, China, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said there were “profound evidentiary problems which would have made it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In a statement, Freeman said that after an investigation by Minneapolis police and a review by four senior sexual assault prosecutors, it was clear his office could not meet its burden of proof, and therefore could not bring charges.

“Because we do not want to re-victimize the young woman, we will not be going into detail,” Freeman said.

The 45-year-old Liu, who grew JD.com from a humble electronics stall to an e-commerce giant with 2017 net revenues of $55.7 billion and maintains tight control of the company, was released without charge about 17 hours after he was arrested on Aug. 31.

He quickly returned to China, where he has continued to run the company. His representatives have maintained his innocence after the woman from China studying at the University of Minnesota accused him of rape.

Liu said in a social media post he felt “utter self-admonishment and regret” for the “enormous pain” his “actions on that day” caused his family, especially his wife, internet celebrity Zhang Zetian.

“I immediately confessed to her the truth, and hope she can accept my most sincere apologies,” he said in a statement on the Weibo platform.

Liu said the decision by prosecutors not to press charges proved that he had not violated any laws “from to start to finish”.

He said he had been unable to defend himself earlier despite “misleading information” and could not respond to comments in social media and news reports because he did not want to obstruct the investigation and judicial process.

JD.com shares extended gains on Friday after news spread of the decision not to prosecute, and closed up 5.9 percent.

The case has attracted extreme interest in China. Liu could have faced up to 30 years in prison under Minnesota law if convicted of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct.

‘STORY WILL BE TOLD’

On Friday, Freeman said the three months it took his office to review Liu’s case was not unusual for a sexual assault investigation, especially one in which no one was in custody.

“It had nothing to do with Liu’s status as a wealthy, foreign businessman,” Freeman said in his statement.

A lawyer for the student who accused Liu criticized the decision, saying it showed why victims of sexual assault feared coming forward, and questioned why prosecutors waited to issue a release until late on the Friday before Christmas.

Investigators “never met this victim; they never spoke to this victim; they never sought to meet with her lawyers,” the attorney, Wil Florin, said in a statement.

“Her story will be told. On her behalf we will not permit her dignity to be simply swept under the rug.”

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Florin’s statement.

An attorney for Liu said they welcomed the decision, and hoped that it would dispel “misinformation and speculation”.

“Mr Liu was arrested based on a false claim, and after a thorough investigation, with which he fully cooperated, the declination of charges vindicates him,” Liu’s attorney, Jill Brisbois, said in a statement.

Florin said his client will file a civil lawsuit, saying they looked forward to a civil jury hearing the “full and complete story” and determining whether Liu, JD.com and their representatives should be held accountable.

Reuters previously reported details of what happened while Liu was in Minneapolis, including a description of the alleged attack and the events around it given by the now-22-year-old student.

Usually based in Beijing, Liu made the U.S. trip for a week long residency program at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, which runs a doctor of business administration program with China’s elite Tsinghua University.

The University of Minnesota said it had no comment on Friday’s announcement.

The decision to not prosecute followed criticism of Minneapolis authorities, including Freeman’s office, for what some see as a failure to pursue sexual assault cases adequately.

Reporting by by Lawrence Delevingne and Koh Gui Qing; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, and Philip Wen and Hallie Gu in Beijing; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Leslie Adler, Robert Birsel

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Ottawa education workers still teaching special-ed students at schools want safety checks

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Some Ottawa educators say they are concerned about the safety of classrooms that remain open in schools for special-education students.

Ontario elementary and secondary students have been sent home to study virtually because of the dangers posed by rising rates of COVID-19. However, special-education classes are still operating at many bricks-and-mortar schools.

The special-education classes include students with physical and developmental disabilities, autism and behaviour problems. Some don’t wear masks and require close physical care.

Two unions representing teachers and educational assistants at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have sent letters to Ottawa Public Health expressing their concerns.

It’s urgent that public health officials inspect classrooms to assess the safety of the special-ed classes, said a letter from the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which also represents the educational assistants who work with special-needs children.

“In the absence of reasons based on medical evidence to keep specialized systems classes open, we are unsure as to the safety of staff and students in these programs,” said the letter signed by president Stephanie Kirkey and other union executives.

The letter said staff agreed that students in specialized classes had difficulty with remote education and benefited most from in-person instruction.

“Our members care deeply about the students they work with and are not only concerned about their own health and safety, but also about that of their students, as they are often unable to abide by COVID safety protocols that include masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene, thus making it more likely that they could transmit the virus to one another,” the letter said.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has 1,286 elementary and secondary students in special-education classes attending in person at 87 schools, said spokesperson Darcy Knoll.

While final numbers were not available, Knoll said the board believed a large number of the special-education students were back in class on Friday at schools.

In-person classes for other elementary and secondary students are scheduled to resume Jan. 25.

The school boards provide PPE for educators in special-education classes as required, including surgical masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

Several educators interviewed said they don’t understand why it has been deemed unsafe for students in mainstream classes to attend class, but not special-ed students.

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Ottawa sets record of 210 new COVID-19 cases following lag in data reporting

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Ottawa has now broken its daily record for new COVID-19 cases twice in 2021, with 210 new cases added on Friday amid a lag in data reports from earlier in the week.

The nation’s capital has now seen 10,960 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reports 977 active cases of the virus in Ottawa, a jump of more than 100 over Thursday’s figures.

One additional person has died in relation to COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll in the pandemic to 395.

The record-setting case count comes a day after Ottawa reported a relatively low increase of 68 cases. Ontario’s COVID-19 system had meanwhile reported 164 new cases on Thursday.

OPH said Thursday that due to a large number of case reports coming in late Wednesday, the local system did not account for a large portion of cases. The health unit said it expects the discrepancy to be filled in the subsequent days.

Taken together, Thursday and Friday’s reports add 278 cases to Ottawa’s total, a daily average of 139 cases.

The new single-day record surpasses a benchmark set this past Sunday, when the city recorded 184 new cases.

Ontario also reported a new record of 4,249 cases on Friday, with roughly 450 of those cases added due to a lag in reporting in Toronto.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also continues to climb in Ottawa. OPH’s dashboard shows there are currently 24 people in hospital with COVID-19, seven of whom are in the intensive care unit.

Three new coronavirus outbreaks were added to OPH’s dashboard on Friday. One outbreak affects a local shelter where one resident has tested positive for the virus, while the other two are traced to workplaces and private settings in the community.

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Ottawa family dealing with mould issue in apartment grateful for support

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa family, who has been dealing with mould in their south Ottawa apartment, is grateful for the support they have received from the community.

“I would like to say big very mighty, big thank you to everyone,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

Adeniyi lives with her three sons in a South Keys apartment. Her son Desmond turned to social media on Sunday to seek help for the family, saying they’ve been dealing with mould in their unit and it has taken too long to fix.

“I see my mom go through a struggle everyday; with three kids, it’s not easy,” says 16-year-old Desmond Adeniyi.

He setup a GoFundMe page to help the family raise money to move out. After gaining online attention and the story, which originally aired CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday, they have been able to raise over $30,000.

“Yes! I was surprised, a big surprise!” says Nofisat Adeniyi, “We are free from the mess that we’ve been going through.”

The family was so touched, they decided to pay it forward and donated $5,000 to another family in need, “A lady my son told me about,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

The recipient wants to remain anonymous, but when she found out from Adeniyi, “She was crying, she has three kids; I remember when I was, I can feel what she’s feeling – because I was once in those shoes.”

CTV News Ottawa did reach out to the property management company for an update on the mould. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for COGIR Realty wrote:

“We respect the privacy of our residents and are unable to disclose any specific information regarding any of our residents. We can, however, let you know that we are working with the residents and are making every effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Cogir Real Estate

The giving did not stop at just cash donations. “When I saw the segment, the thing that struck me the most was how easily the situation can be resolved,” says mould removal expert Charlie Leduc with Mold Busters in Ottawa.

Leduc is not involved in the case, but appeared in the original story, and after seeing the mould on TV wanted to help.

“This isn’t something that we typically do, but given the circumstance and given the fact that this has gone on way too long, our company is willing to go in and do this work for free,” said Leduc.

The Adeniyi family may now have some options, and are grateful to the community for the support.

“Yes, It’s great news — you can see me smiling,” says Nofisat.

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