Former entrepreneur and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes said in court on Monday she was abused by her former business and romantic partner Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani who allegedly forced her to have sex with him and controlled what she ate.
Ms Holmes’ testimony came on the fourth day of her high-profile trial where she is accused of engineering a medical scam with her now defunct blood testing technology that could allegedly run blood tests faster than conventional laboratory tests.
She is facing fraud charges and is accused of swindling investors and customers while putting patients at risk. While Ms Holmes has pleaded not guilty, she could face a prison sentence up to twenty years if convicted.
On Monday, Ms Holmes, 37, said that she met Mr Balwani, 56, while she was in high school.
She dropped out of Stanford University in 2003, after which she founded Theranos.
Her attorneys said on Monday that part of the reason that she left Stanford was because she was allegedly raped while at university, reported Reuters.
Ms Holmes said she believed this explained her subservience to Mr Balwani in the subsequent years.
Ms Holmes said she grew close to him as she looked up to him as a successful businessman. “He said I was safe now that I had met him,” she said in court.
The couple got into a romantic relationship in 2005. Later, Mr Balwani served as the company’s chief operating officer from 2009 to 2016.
Ms Holmes described in court that Mr Balwani would ask her to “kill” her former self in order to become more focused and disciplined as an entrepreneur, reported Associated Press (AP).
He would ask her to write down her daily goals for at least 30 minutes each morning. He would also ask her not to spend more than five minutes with anyone unless she had written down a justification for doing so.
“He felt like I came across as a little girl and thought I needed to be more serious and more pointed,” she said.
She also said that he attempted to force her to cut herself off from her family in order to give her full attention to the company.
He would often berate her and compare her running of the company as a “monkey flying a space ship”. If she did not follow his ways, he would say that he is “disappointed” in her “mediocrity”. He also controlled her diet, to keep her “pure”.
Ms Holmes said sometimes after he belittled her, he would force her to have sex with him in order to show her that he still loved her.
Theranos, which was once valued at $9bn, and billed as a Silicon Valley startup success story, collapsed after a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal in 2015 suggested that the blood testing devices were flawed and inaccurate. Ms Holmes was indicted in 2018.
Ms Holmes said last week that Mr Balwani had prepared financial projections that were shared with investors. She said that she is not claiming that he controlled her statements to investors or business partners, but rather that she did not question him as she should have.
Mr Balwani’s lawyer Jeffrey Coopersmith, who was present in court, vehemently denied Ms Holmes’ abuse allegations, reported AP.
She will face cross examination by a prosecutor on Tuesday.