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Ex-Alibaba Manager Released After Police End Assault Probe

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(Bloomberg) -- Prosecutors in the northern Chinese city of Jinan decided to drop their case against a former Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. manager accused of sexual assault by a subordinate, meaning he won’t face criminal charges in a case that has shocked China’s technology industry.

The manager, surnamed Wang, had been probed after a female colleague accused him of assault and rape following an alcohol-fueled dinner with clients. The Jinan prosecutors’ office didn’t approve his arrest, according to a statement released on Weibo from the city’s police, although he received a 15-day administrative detention.

“Released at dawn,” Wang’s wife posted on Weibo Tuesday.

Prosecutors were investigating whether to charge Wang with what is roughly translated as “forcible indecency,” a broad category that encompasses sexual assault and stops short of rape, state-owned CCTV reported. But they said Wang’s behavior didn’t constitute a criminal offense so local police detained Wang for an administrative penalty of just “indecency,” which carries a maximum penalty of 15 days. Plaintiffs can separately pursue civil complaints.

The late Monday ruling triggered outrage online, sparking debate about the treatment of female workers across companies in China, where the #MeToo movement has failed to take off as widely as countries like the U.S. The police’s statement generated more than 10,000 comments on Weibo, with many users questioning the decision and expressing anger over failures to protect women.

“Message received: Sexually assaulting women won’t put you behind bars,” one Weibo user wrote. “This guy should start a training course: how to conduct forcible indecency that is not criminal,” said another.

“Alibaba Group has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct, and ensuring a safe workplace for all our employees is Alibaba’s top priority,” the company said in a statement sent to Bloomberg News on Tuesday.

The Jinan police declined to provide further comment. Wang wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The female employee’s allegations, which she published in an 8,000-word account, reverberated throughout Alibaba and tech firms across the country. Two senior executives at the e-commerce giant have since resigned and Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang called his company’s handling of the incident a “humiliation.”

The debate coincided with intense government scrutiny on issues ranging from anti-monopoly violations to the treatment of low-wage workers, particularly in the powerful tech industry.

In August, police arrested a former employee of Jinan Hualian Supermarket who was also present at the dinner with the Alibaba employee and is accused of sexual misconduct.

(Updates with online comments about the case from fifth graph)

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