University of Minnesota Student Sues Chinese Billionaire for Alleged Rape

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A woman who said she was raped by JD.com founder Richard Liu filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the billionaire and his company alleging he and other wealthy Chinese executives coerced her to drink during a dinner in the hours before she was attacked.

Jingyao Liu, a student at the University of Minnesota, claims Liu forced himself upon her in his vehicle after the dinner and later raped her at her apartment. The lawsuit seeks damages of more than $50,000.

Richard Liu, founder of the Beijing-based e-commerce site JD.com, was arrested Aug. 31 in Minneapolis on suspicion of felony rape and released within hours. Prosecutors announced in December that he would face no criminal charges because the case had “profound evidentiary problems” and that it was unlikely they could prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Liu’s defense attorneys said at the time that his arrest was based on a false claim. Liu released a statement on Chinese social media then saying he broke no law, but that his interactions with the woman hurt his family, especially his wife, and he hoped she would accept his apology.

Attorneys for Richard Liu and representatives of JD.com did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The alleged attack happened while Liu was in Minneapolis for a weeklong residency as part of the University of Minnesota’s doctor of business administration China program. The four-year program in the university’s management school is geared toward high-level executives in China and is a partnership with Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management.

Jingyao Liu is a Chinese citizen studying at the university on a student visa, and was a volunteer in the doctorate program while Richard Liu was there. The Associated Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent; her attorney Wil Florin said Jingyao Liu had agreed to be named.

The lawsuit said she was 21 at the time of the alleged attack. Florin said Richard Liu and Jingyao Liu are not related.

On the night of the alleged attack, Liu and other executives went to Origami, a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis. The woman went as a volunteer at the invitation of Charlie Yao, another executive in the program. He pitched it as an event to honor volunteers, but no others were invited and Richard Liu had privately asked Yao to invite the plaintiff, the lawsuit said.

Jingyao Liu felt coerced to drink as the powerful men toasted her, with Richard Liu saying she would dishonor him if she did not join in, according to the lawsuit.

Text messages reviewed by The Associated Press and portions of the woman’s interviews with police show the woman claims Liu pulled her into a limousine and made advances despite her protests. The woman texted a friend: “I begged him don’t. But he didn’t listen.”

The lawsuit said a Liu aide turned the limousine’s rear-view mirror upward so the chauffeur could not see Liu groping the student in the rear despite her protests. It says Liu forcibly raped her at her apartment, again over her protests and resistance.

Liu, known in Chinese as Liu Qiangdong, is a prominent member of the Chinese tech elite, with a fortune of $7.5 billion. He is part of a generation of entrepreneurs who have created China’s internet, e-commerce, mobile phone and other technology industries since the late 1990s. The son of peasants, Liu built a Beijing electronics shop into JD.com, China’s biggest online direct retailer, selling everything from clothes to toys to fresh vegetables.

Sprint and T-Mobile Shares Fall After Wall Street Journal Doubts Merger Approval

(NEW YORK) — Sprint and T-Mobile shares are falling after a Wall Street Journal report cast doubt on the likelihood of government approval of their $26.5 billion merger .

The Journal says Justice Department antitrust staff, which is reviewing the takeover, questioned the companies’ reasoning for it in a meeting this month. The report cited people familiar with the matter.

Wall Street has grown more skeptical of the merger being completed in recent months. House Democrats grilled the companies in a hearing in February.

The Obama administration rebuffed the companies’ earlier effort to merge, as well as an attempted deal between AT&T and T-Mobile.

Messages to T-Mobile, Sprint and DOJ were not immediately answered.

Sprint shares are down more than 9 percent in after-hours trading. T-Mobile stock is down 5.5 percent.

Champion’s Logo Is Suddenly Cool and Suddenly Everywhere. Can It Last?

On a recent Tuesday at the newly opened Champion store in Philadelphia’s Center City, the brand’s oversize red, white and blue “C” is everywhere: across the chest of thick cotton sweatshirts, down the sides of track pants and on the front of baseball caps. A couple of 20-somethings sift the clothing racks during the lunch hour. They drift through the aisles like wandering billboards.

Jasmine Satchell stopped by with a friend to check out the customization area on the top floor and perhaps buy a hoodie and get it personalized. Already a fan of the company, she wore a gray Champion hoodie and had a dark blue beanie on top of her twists. “I obviously love the brand,” Satchell said, pointing to the logo on her chest. “Everybody can wear Champion. My mom can rep Champion—and my grandma probably can, too.”

The century-old brand best known for basic gym attire is experiencing an unlikely revival. Champion is a benefactor of three swirling style trends that converged to create a teen and millennial fashion craze: Logo apparel is in vogue; throwback gear has returned; and streetwear—the casual style derived from skateboard and sports culture—is having a moment.

Parent company HanesBrands Inc., the longtime stewards of tighty-whitey underwear, is certainly enjoying that moment. The company has had 10 straight years of revenue growth fueled in part by the strength of Champion, its second-largest brand. In its most recent earnings call, HanesBrands Chief Executive Officer Gerald Evans Jr. said Champion is one of three growth drivers for his apparel seller—the only label in his portfolio that earned such recognition.

Champion had double-digit growth during the holiday season, which drove the company’s best fourth-quarter performance in four years. Teens in particular are latching on to the label, with 9 percent of upper-income boys and 5 percent of girls starting to wear its clothes this spring, according to a recent survey from Piper Jaffray. Male teens consider it a top-15 brand, ranking alongside such names as Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger. Last year it had nearly $1.4 billion in global sales. The company hopes to cash in on Champion’s newfound cultural cachet and grow it into a $2 billion unit by 2022.

Susan Hennike, president of Champion’s North America division, has been tasked with reaching that goal. She credits Champion’s popularity surge to increased investment in social media channels, updated designs (including more fashion-forward items like cut-off sweatshirts), new brick-and-mortar locations and collaborations with other established brands. “There’s been a bit of a newfound discovery,” Hennike says of the youths roving her stores. “I don’t think we’ve necessarily changed.”

Since 2016, Champion’s Instagram followers have climbed from 200,000 to about 6 million. (Hennike says she even takes the masochistic step of reading the comments to gauge her followers’ thoughts.) You can find Rihanna and members of the Kardashian clan wearing Champion in paparazzi pics and Instagram posts. Chance the Rapper went further last year, claiming during an Instagram livestream that he helped make the brand “unlame.”

Champion was once best known for making gear for youth soccer squads and college kids, not A-list celebrities. Knickerbocker Knitting Mills was founded in 1919 by Simon Feinbloom and his sons—Abe and Bill—in Rochester, New York, as a wholesale operation. The brothers would later rename it Champion Knitwear Mills and switched their focus to collegiate apparel.

After going nearly a century without opening a single shop in America, Champion debuted its first U.S. store in Los Angeles last year, seeking to gain more exposure in cities known for sports, arts and culture. They have since opened in New York, Boston and Chicago, and plan to open another urban location later this year. Data gleaned from the stores allows the company to tell retail partners what’s selling well, and allows them to promote accordingly.

Consumers have recently embraced brands with long histories and classic logos. Italian sporting goods brand Fila and Kentucky-based Russell Athletic have also experienced a resurgence of late. All of this has created a $100 billion market for streetwear in the U.S., largely driven by teens and young adults, according a 2018 report from PwC. Nearly three-fourths of Gen Z wear the style “some or all the time,” the firm found.

The secondary market, where streetwear fanatics buy and sell limited-edition merchandise, is teeming with Champion goods. On luxury consignment shop the RealReal, its collaborations appear alongside $60,000 vintage Hermès handbags, $45,000 Tiffany & Co. diamond bracelets and $3,000 red-soled Christian Louboutin pumps. Sneakerhead marketplace StockX lists hundreds of different Champion products, with prices ranging from $50 for beanies to $400 for jackets.

Such listings boost Champion’s street cred, providing shoppers an alternative to more expensive labels, according to Jeff Carvalho, managing director of street fashion site Highsnobiety. Collaborations with streetwear labels Supreme, Vetements, Off White and Kith helped Champion gain access to some of the coolest brands on the planet. “The high and low of fashion can work together,” he said. “Not everybody can buy a $300 hoodie.”

The collaborations have exposed Champion to an entirely new segment of shoppers, those that browse retail’s grandest halls of luxury. Champion’s line made in conjunction with American fashion designer Todd Snyder is sold on the Mr Porter website, and the main label can be found in Neiman Marcus and London department store Selfridges. Currently, the brand is stocked by 56 different U.S. retailers online, according to an analysis by retail research firm Edited. About 60 percent of products listed are menswear.

And yes, its sweatshirts are still on shelves at places like the Appalachian State University campus bookstore.

On that windy afternoon in the Philly store, associates chatted with customers, dropping local lexicon like “jawn.” A 1919 Temple University knit sweater and one of NBA legend Allen Iverson’s warm-up jerseys were on display behind the counter. Executives say that the brand’s multigenerational appeal is key, and such local flair does double-duty as retro cool for teens and genuine nostalgia for adults.

“A lot of it has to do with our heritage and the fact that Champion has been around so long,” said Fred Washington, the Philadelphia store manager, who was wearing a black Champion hoodie emblazoned with the brand’s name and the Liberty Bell. “We’re able to capture millennials that remember wearing it in gym class. We’re able to capture their parents and generations ahead of them because they have a long history with the brand.”

Yapheitt Stones was visiting the store on his way home from physical therapy. It was the day before his 46th birthday, and the brand reminded him of his teenage years. He had liked the brand since the late ’80s, he explained, or as he put it “since the beginning.” He had a closet of their sweatshirts and sweatsuits.

“They’ve got way more products than they had before. They have hats. And it’s great that they’re now in Philly,” said Stones as he showed off one of his purchases: a shirt featuring the city skyline with the Champion name swirling through it. “Champion is an all-time favorite.”

Volkswagen’s Former CEO Has Been Charged with Fraud in Germany

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — German prosecutors charged former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn and four others with fraud in the emissions cheating scandal that has helped turn many Europeans against diesel engines and accelerated the push toward electric cars.Prosecutors said Monday that Winterkorn knew about the scheme since at least May 2014 and failed to put a stop to it.That contradicted his claim that he didn’t learn about it until shortly before U.S. investigators announced it in September 2015. Winterkorn resigned as CEO five days later.

VW has admitted installing software in its diesel cars that turned on pollution controls when vehicles were being tested and switched them off during everyday driving. That made it look as if the cars met tough U.S. limits on harmful pollutants known as nitrogen oxides.

In all, some 11 million cars worldwide were equipped with the illegal software.

Prosecutors said the defendants — all top Volkswagen managers — were part of a deception that started in 2006.

The 71-year-old Winterkorn and the others, whose names were not released, face six months to 10 years in prison if convicted of aggravated fraud involving serious losses. Other charges include unfair competition and breach of trust.

Prosecutors said the defendants could also be forced to forfeit sales bonuses ranging from around 300,000 euros to 11 million euros ($340,000 to $12.45 million).

Winterkorn is already under indictment in the U.S. on charges of fraud and conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act and could get up to 20 years in prison. But he cannot be extradited from Germany to the U.S.

Winterkorn’s attorney, Felix Doerr, said that the defense could not comment on the German case because prosecutors had not provided adequate opportunity to review the case files. Doerr said prosecutors turned over seven DVDs with hundreds of file folders of material on April 5.

The case, consisting of a 692-page indictment backed by 300 file volumes holding 75,000 pages, was filed in a local court in Braunschweig on Friday. The court will decide if the case will proceed to trial.

Prosecutors said among other things that the defendants carried out a software update costing 23 million euros in 2014 to try to cover up the true reason for the elevated pollution during driving.

The prosecutors said they are still investigating 36 more suspects.

Volkswagen’s corporate involvement in the Braunschweig investigation ended last year with a 1 billion euro fine. Volkswagen noted that the indictment was against individuals and had no further comment.

The prosecutors’ move is only one of the legal proceedings unleashed by the scandal.

Volkswagen has paid more than 27 billion euros (currently $31 billion) in fines and civil settlements with authorities and car owners since getting caught.

The automaker apologized and pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the United States, where two executives were sentenced to prison and six others charged, although they could not be extradited.

And the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged the company and Winterkorn on March 15 with defrauding investors through misleading statements about vehicle quality and environmental compliance.

Investors in Germany are also seeking damages.

The scandal unleashed widespread scrutiny of diesel emissions across the industry. It soon turned out that many models from other companies also emitted far more pollution on the road than on the test stand, because of regulatory loopholes exploited by carmakers such as turning exhaust controls off at certain temperatures to reduce engine wear.

Diesel sales, once half the European car market, have sagged.

That in turn has undermined carmakers’ plans to use diesels — which get better mileage — to help meet tougher European Union limits in 2021 on emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

One result has been greater pressure to develop battery-powered cars to avoid heavy fines for breaching the new emissions limits. Volkswagen plans to spend 30 billion euros to develop electric vehicles by 2023.

The company was able to weather the scandal well enough to take the top spot as the world’s largest carmaker from Toyota. Last year, under CEO Herbert Diess, Volkswagen had record sales of 10.83 million vehicles, making an operating profit of 13.9 billion euros.

Trump Gave Americans a Massive Tax Cut. Few Are Noticing — And That’s a Problem for Him

Republicans passed a sweeping tax cut for two-thirds of Americans in 2017, saying it would pay for itself and the American public would thank them.

Now, as Americans finish filing to the IRS for the first time under the new system, the law has swelled the deficit and surveys show just one-fifth of taxpayers believe their taxes have gone down. That’s made it hard for President Donald Trump to leverage the tax cuts as an issue in 2020, when he’s up for reelection and his party will be seeking to retake the House of Representatives.

“The Democrats really outmaneuvered the Republicans by convincing the American people that the main thrust of the tax reform package was to cut taxes for the wealthy,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor who runs the drilling services company Canary, LLC. Republicans “failed to fully explain the success to voters.”

Trump is going to try again on Monday when he goes to Minnesota, a potential swing state in the 2020 election, to promote what Republicans consider their signature legislative achievement. It’s part of a week of events designed to promote the tax law’s effects on the economy as he turns to his next campaign.

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans sold the tax law as fuel for economic growth and deficit reduction. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave assurances in December 2017 that the measure would not only contain the deficit but be a “revenue-producer.” Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said last week that the tax cut package had largely already paid for itself, a statement that conflicts with government data.

The U.S. budget shortfall grew by 17 percent to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, which the Congressional Budget Office has said was partly a consequence of the tax law. Along with additional spending that’s been signed into law, the CBO projects the deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020.

When the law passed, McConnell said, “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.” He added that the GOP merely needed to tell the public “that you have more money in your pocket.”

Perceptions

But an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this month showed that just 17 percent of Americans believe their taxes have been cut. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in March found that 21 percent thought their taxes were lowered.

That’s despite an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that two out of three taxpayers would see their taxes go down. The biggest benefits, though, go to the top 1 percent, who are projected to receive an average tax break of $62,000 in 2018, while the middle one-fifth of income earners got an average tax cut of $1,090 — about $20 per biweekly paycheck.

The law appears to have met a similar political fate as President Barack Obama’s stimulus package in 2009, in which most Americans received a one-year tax break but the incremental gains in paychecks were so small that most didn’t notice.

Eberhart said the Trump administration wanted “an immediate reaction” so it reduced the amount the IRS withholds from regular paychecks starting in 2018.

‘Too Small’

The move backfired. “It was too small an amount for most to notice,” he said. Adding to voters’ frustration, their tax refunds were smaller than expected, down about 1.1 percent overall, but still noticeable to individual households.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on Friday dismissed poor poll results, saying that they might be explained by general frustration with the tax system broadly. He cited other data, such as the Michigan survey of consumer sentiment, that “suggest that you should have a very optimistic outlook for economic growth this year.”

The tax law, passed by Republicans without any Democratic support, lowered the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and cut individual taxes across income brackets for eight years. It doubled the standard deduction and enhanced the child tax credit. And it closed or tightened various tax breaks — most notably by capping the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted — which had its biggest impact on residents of high-tax, largely Democratic-run states.

2018 Campaign

Democrats spent their 2018 midterm campaigns hammering the law as a giveaway to wealthy Americans that would widen the deficit and put popular programs like Social Security and Medicare on shaky ground.

According to exit polls for House races published on Election Day 2018 by CNN, 29 percent said the new tax law helped their finances; that group overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates. But 45 percent said the law had no impact and 22 percent said it hurt their finances, and those categories overwhelmingly backed Democratic candidates.

Ryan Ellis, a conservative tax lobbyist, blamed negative news coverage for the unpopularity of the tax law. “People don’t know about their own taxes,” he said, adding that they “get half baked ideas” from the way the law is portrayed.

Republicans didn’t understand what the broader public wanted from a tax bill, said Morris Pearl, a former managing director at BlackRock Inc., who now chairs Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy individuals who advocate for higher taxes on the rich.

“They forgot that the people who show up at their $1,000-a-plate fundraisers are not representative of all people,” Pearl said. “They overreached with their tax bill and tilted the system in the favor of the very wealthy and large corporations.”

Hard Sell

The tax effort stemmed from the bipartisan desire to move the U.S. corporate tax system in line with those of foreign competitors. Both parties supported lowering the country’s 35 percent corporate rate, though Democrats favored a more modest reduction.

Republicans realized that corporate tax cuts were a hard sell to the general public. So they reduced levies for pass-through businesses — partnerships and limited liability companies — and individuals, eliminated some existing tax breaks to offset the rate reductions and included a more generous child tax credit.

But because of earlier unpopular proposals like one to cut deductions for medical expenses, college tuition and child-adoption costs, public opinion had already soured — for good.

In many Democratic strongholds, such as New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia, the average refund amount decreased, according to H&R Block, fueling discontent with the law, even though residents in those states got a tax cut on average.

Worse, the state and local tax, or SALT, cap really stung. Residents of high-tax states, encouraged by the elected Democratic officials, came to believe they were targeted to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cut, even if they weren’t able to personally use the deduction.

“It is clear that they consciously exacted revenge on Democratic states like New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois by capping the SALT deduction, which is bad news for residents in those states,” said Representative Tom Suozzi, a New York Democrat.

President Trump Says Boeing Should ‘Rebrand’ the 737 Max After Fatal Crashes

President Donald Trump said Monday that Boeing should “rebrand” its 737 Max airplane, which has been taken out of passenger service worldwide following two high-profile fatal crashes in recent months.

“What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!),” Trump tweeted at 6.29 a.m. ET. “But if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name. No product has suffered like this one. But again, what the hell do I know?”

The U.S. decision to ground all 737 Max aircraft came after several other countries around the world made the same move, and followed the crashes of Lion Air flight 610 (which came down off Indonesia last October, killing all 189 people on board) and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (which crashed on March 10 outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 on board). Both flights involved American planemaker Boeing’s new 737 Max model; the crashes appear to involve the model’s anti-stalling software.

The 737 Max was the fastest-selling plane in Boeing’s history, but the company’s stock dropped some 11% after the Ethiopian Airlines crash. With airlines continuing to cancel flights because of the ongoing grounding, it’s unclear how Boeing, or the air carriers that rely on the 737 Max, will resume normal operations.

Nevada Is Under Pressure to Reveal How It Awards Its Marijuana Licenses

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada faces complaints about secrecy in awarding licenses to sell marijuana in the state’s booming legal marketplace, boiling over into lawsuits and legislation that appear poised to pry open the process.

Several companies have sued the state tax department, arguing that no one knows for sure the criteria officials use to award new licenses. They complain the state releases no information about who seeks and receives permission to sell cannabis to adults, many of them tourists, in the nearly 2-year-old market.

They will ask a judge Monday to freeze the granting of marijuana dispensary licenses, at least temporarily, until the courts decide whether it’s “arbitrary and capricious and violates the constitution,” one lawsuit says.

The hearing will focus on a second wave of dispensaries approved in December to open into an evolving regulatory environment where local lawmakers are considering allowing pot lounges on or near the Las Vegas Strip.

The companies say Nevada unconstitutionally picked winners and losers from 462 applicants for 61 new dispensary, cultivation, laboratory and production licenses.

“Licenses that admit a select few to such a lucrative enterprise must be made in a way that is open and transparent,” said attorney Vincent Savarese, who wrote the constitutional challenge on behalf of Serenity Wellness Center and 10 other companies that were turned away.

“The point is to remove the marijuana trade from criminal enterprises, cartels and mobsters and street dealers, and to ensure that they don’t have participation in the legal marijuana industry,” he said.

The court arguments come days after the state Senate unanimously passed a measure to let officials release taxpayer information now labeled confidential. The proposal heads next to the Assembly.

Plans are underway to release the names of all applicants and licensees once the measure becomes law, said Ky Plaskon, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation, which regulates the licensing process.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday acknowledged “the frustrations of many marijuana license applicants with the current licensing process” and endorsed the legislation that he said “would shed light on the methodology used … in granting licenses.”

Sisolak, a Democrat, was elected last November while calling for a state marijuana regulatory program similar to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which regulates casino licensing. He has an advisory panel studying the formation of a Cannabis Compliance Board.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, and figures show that sales are booming.

In the first year after broad marijuana sales began in July 2017, 61 dispensaries statewide reported nearly $425 million in recreational pot sales. Medical marijuana sales totaled an additional $105 million.

Nevada reaped $42.5 million in taxes on adult sales, with about $27.5 million going to an account for schools.

In the last six months of 2018, all dispensaries reported $884 million in sales and the state took in almost $72 million in taxes on recreational sales, Plaskon said. There are now 65 marijuana stores statewide.

Monday’s court hearing in Clark County District Court is expected to draw attorneys involved in six lawsuits filed against the state Taxation Department on behalf of dozens of companies.

“I’m not saying anybody corruptly got a license,” Savarese said. “But I’m saying that if they had, the process is opaque enough to provide cover for it.”

His 11 clients already won some dispensary licenses in 2017, after Nevada voters in 2016 approved broad access to cannabis, and are seeking more.

American Airlines Cancels All Boeing 737 Max Flights Through Mid-August

(NEW YORK) — American Airlines is canceling 115 flights per day through mid-August because of ongoing problems with the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

The cancellations represent 1.5% of American’s total flights each day of the summer.

The U.S. grounded Boeing’s 737 Max plane in mid-March after two deadly plane crashes. Boeing aims to finish fixing the planes in late April, and changes would have to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign regulators for approval.

American has 24 Max jets and had previously planned to cancel Max flights through early June. Airline officials say by extending cancellations through the summer they can plan more reliably for the peak travel season.

The airline says its reservations and sales teams will work with customers to manage their travel plans.