Elizabeth Holmes blames ex-boyfriend for Theranos downfall: All you need to know about Ramesh Balwani

She fought back tears as she told jurors that Balwani denigrated her and forced himself on her sexually when angry — accusations that he has strongly denied

FP Staff January 04, 2022 11:03:39 IST
Elizabeth Holmes blames ex-boyfriend for Theranos downfall: All you need to know about Ramesh Balwani

: Former Theranos COO Ramesh Balwani appears in federal court for a status hearing on July 17, 2019 in San Jose, California. AP

Fallen US biotech star Elizabeth Holmes was convicted on Monday of defrauding investors in her blood-testing startup Theranos, in a high-profile case seen as an indictment of Silicon Valley culture.

Holmes is a rare example of a tech executve being brought to book over a company flaming out, in a sector littered with the carcasses of money-losing companies that once promised untold riches.

Her case shone a spotlight on the blurred line between the hustle that characterizes the industry and outright criminal dishonesty.

Holmes could face decades in prison if convicted on allegations she defrauded investors in her once-hyped Silicon Valley company, which collapsed after its diagnostic machines did not perform as promised.

Holmes sought to shift some of the blame to Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, a boyfriend nearly two decades her senior whom she had brought in to help run her company.

She fought back tears as she told jurors that Balwani denigrated her and forced himself on her sexually when angry — accusations that he has strongly denied.

So who is 'Sunny'? Let's take a look.

A key aspect of the defence was the shifting of blame to Balwani, who Holmes claims abused her physically, emotionally and sexually. Balwani has denied all the allegations.

As per New York Times, Balwani’s early career was in software. He was a Northern California sales manager for Microsoft, selling the company’s products to executives at other firms. On 4 October 1999, when the dot-com boom was roaring, he joined a start-up called CommerceBid.com as president.

He later went on to become the chief operating officer at Theranos and had a romantic relationship with Holmes, which has been detailed in emails submitted to the court. Balwani also faces fraud charges, and his case is scheduled to go trial next year.

Holmes choked up as she told jurors last month that ex-boyfriend "Sunny", whom she'd brought in to help run her company Theranos, denigrated her and forced himself on her sexually when angry about how she was running the company.

"He would get very angry with me and then he would sometimes come upstairs to our bedroom and force me to have sex with him when I didn't want to," Holmes said of Balwani.

Balwani, who served as Theranos' chief operating officer, bullied Holmes to succeed in the business world, she said during her fourth day of testimony in her fraud trial, which began in early September.

Balwani, almost two decades Holmes' senior, would criticise her for acting "giddy" or not behaving in ways he considered serious, the now-37-year-old said, as she went through notes and text messages from that time.

"Sunny was saying he was astonished by my mediocrity and he was exhausted with me, that I was a monkey that was trying to fly a spaceship," she told jurors.

Balwani, who is facing trial separately, has denied the abuse allegations, with his lawyer describing them as "salacious and inflammatory" in court filings.

"Ms Holmes' allegations are deeply offensive to Mr Balwani, devastating personally to him," lawyer Jeffrey Coopersmith wrote.

Holmes was 19 when she launched Theranos in 2003, eventually promising self-service testing machines that could run an analytical gamut cheaply and on just a few drops of blood.

She dropped out of Stanford University in 2004, testifying on Monday that she was raped while a student there, and that she left school to focus on starting Theranos.

Holmes said she believed in the company's technology and did not challenge Balwani's running of the lab, adding she was shocked when the lab failed a regulator inspection in 2016.

She said the relationship ended that year and she replaced the company's leadership, with her brother helping her move out of the home the couple shared while Balwani was traveling in Thailand.

"He wasn't who I thought he was, I thought if I was going to allow the company to see through its potential, I had to do that without him at the company."

With inputs from AFP

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