Elizabeth Holmes claims in court she was sexually abused by her COO ex-boyfriend and says he controlled what she ate

November 30, 2021, 11:11 PM UTC

Elizabeth Holmes testified in court this week that her ex-boyfriend, former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, emotionally and sexually abused her. 

The former CEO, visibly crying on the stand, added that Balwani would control what she ate, and when she saw her family. 

“He would force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to because he would say that he wanted me to know he still loved me,” Holmes said on Monday. 

Balwani’s lawyer Jeffrey Coopersmith, who was present in court on Monday, said that his client denies Holmes’ allegations of abuse, the Associated Press reported. Coopersmith did not return Fortune’s request for comment. 

Holmes dropped out of Stanford University when she was 19 years old to start Theranos in 2004. The company cast itself as a revolution in healthcare, and said that its pin-prick tests would make blood testing cheaper and more convenient. While Holmes was profiled by publications like Forbes and Fortune by 2014, the Wall Street Journal revealed inconsistencies in the company’s claims the following year, reporting that Theranos was not actually using the technology it said it developed for most of its blood tests. The SEC charged both Holmes and Balwani with fraud in 2018.

Holmes and Balwani met in China when she was 18 and he was 37, according to The Wall Street Journal. Once Holmes dropped out of Stanford to start Theranos, they began dating and eventually moved in together. Balwani became COO of Theranos in 2009.

Holmes said in court that she was raped as an undergraduate at Stanford, which contributed to her reasons for leaving school, and that Balwani told her that she was “safe now that I had met him.”  

She said that Balwani questioned her instincts and insulted her business tactics behind closed doors throughout the years she was building Theranos. 

“He wasn’t who I thought he was,” Holmes said, adding that Balwani would tell her repeatedly “to become a new Elizabeth.”

Holmes’ abuse claims have the potential to change the jury’s mind about the former Theranos CEO, who previously portrayed herself as a powerful tech leader in full command of her life and her company during the time that the alleged fraud took place.

“Elizabeth Holmes, up until today, has presented herself as the epitome of confidence — this spectacular, composed entrepreneur — and now all of a sudden she’s telling us, ‘I was the puppet and Sunny Balwani was the puppeteer,’” civil trial lawyer David M. Ring told the New York Times. If the jury finds her account credible, “that’s going to go a long way to an acquittal,” he added, but noted that it could also work against her.   

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