Zhang Ziyi, seen here attending an awards ceremony in China last month, stars in the upcoming Chinese remake of Dangerous Liaisons. (Photo/CFP)
The actress Zhang Ziyi has filed a lawsuit against US-based citizen journalism website Boxun over claims that she earned more than US$100 million by sleeping with high-ranking government officials and wealthy businessmen in China, including disgraced former political heavyweight Bo Xilai.
Zhang's suit, filed on June 14 in the US District Court in California by American legal powerhouse Glaser Weil, alleges libel, false light invasion of privacy, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, negligent interference with prospective economic advantage and unlawful business practices.
The claim named 27 defendants, being China Free Press, a North Carolina-based non-profit organization doing business as Boxun, Watson Meng, a North Carolina resident and the so-called "alter ego" of China Free Press, and 25 unnamed individuals designated as Does 1 to 25.
Zhang has sought a jury trial and is seeking general and special damages for the injuries Boxun's allegations have caused to her reputation and business interests.
"This action is necessary to restore the reputation and vindicate the rights of Plaintiff Zhang Ziyi, an international motion picture actress," the claim stated, adding that none of the claims Boxun published are true and that the website "never had any legitimate basis to publish them."
The 33-year-old actress, star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha and a new Chinese remake of Dangerous Liaisons, alleges that the defendants "willfully, knowingly, oppressively, and maliciously conspired and agreed amongst themselves to manufacture and publish false and defamatory statements" about her. She argues that Boxun's defense that it merely published "what it believed to be true as provided by an anonymous source" is insufficient under Californian law.
It is believed that Zhang decided to proceed with the lawsuit after Boxun responded to a cease-and-desist letter from Zhang's lawyers on June 6 by refusing to delete the offending articles, apologize, release its sources or offer compensation. The actress commenced proceedings last week in Hong Kong against two news outlets that reported on Boxun's stories.
"Zhang Ziyi is not a prostitute, never has been a prostitute, never met this person that she's alleged to have this very expensive sexual relationship with," Zhang's attorney John Mason told Hollywood gossip program E! News.
"They don't even have a photograph or a statement from anybody that she ever met him. People put stories out there often enough just to get attention, just to get more readers...This is outrageous in the way it was intended to damage her career. You don't call somebody a prostitute and allege multimillion-dollar sex acts without having some evidence," Mason said.
The attorney added that they intend to get to the bottom of the allegations "no matter what it takes and no matter what it costs."
Boxun began publishing articles about Zhang last month as part of its ongoing coverage on Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party secretary of Chongqing who has been sacked for "serious discipline violations" believed to include covering up his wife's murder of a British businessman. The citizen journalism website claimed that Zhang had raked in some 700 million yuan (US$110 million) for having sex with Bo and other government officials and businessmen over a period of 10 years, and had been forbidden from leaving China during the government's ongoing probe into Bo's corruption.
On Wednesday, Boxun responded to the lawsuit with an article that defended its actions. It claimed that it never printed the word "prostitution" in any of its reports and only set up a "Zhang Ziyi Prostitution-gate" link on the website after the term became widely used by foreign media.
Boxun believes the lawsuit demonstrates a political motive. In response to the allegations against Zhang, the site maintained that it had at least two channels verifying the reports and that the rumors had already been widely spread in "some circles." The website claimed it has no ulterior motive and no interest in Zhang's private life, and only published the reports because it had "a responsibility to society" to uncover the corruption involved in the case.
In an act of defiance, Boxun said its editors have no doubts about the truth of the story and that more sources had come forward to provide details of Zhang's dealings with Chinese politicians and businessmen after she threatened to sue. Boxun said that if the case goes to trial, it will put each of these allegations to Zhang in court.
"Boxun has always believed that creating rumors is most damaging to the media," the article said, adding that it has no motive to manufacture rumors against any person or group.
Boxun, which remains confident that its reports will stand the test of the law and history, will have 21 days to respond to Zhang's claim.
Zhang Ziyi 章子怡
Bo Xilai 薄熙來