The high-stakes trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the collapsed medical start-up Theranos, is headed toward a dramatic finish. The latest twist came on Friday, when Ms. Holmes unexpectedly took the stand in her own defense, after the prosecution rested its case.
She testified for an hour, and is expected to continue on Monday. Ms. Holmes has been charged with 11 counts of fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison on each count. She has pleaded not guilty.
Whether Ms. Holmes would testify had been one of the biggest questions of the trial. Up until Friday afternoon, many legal experts predicted that she would not. The benefits of doing so, the experts argued, could be offset by the risks of cross-examination.
At first, her testimony raised concerns for her defense. Her lawyers’ strategy has been to paint her as inexperienced, led astray by others like her former boyfriend and business partner Sunny Balwani (who is being tried separately).
But on the stand, Ms. Holmes depicted herself as very much in control. She presented herself as an expert in the technology Theranos was developing and detailed how she used that knowledge to attract investors, whose money would eventually be wiped out.
She also rebutted a key argument by prosecutors. The prosecution sought to establish that Ms. Holmes withheld information, particularly financial reports, from investors.
On the stand, Holmes detailed the “very comprehensive diligence process” of Don Lucas, a venture capitalist who eventually invested in Theranos and became its chairman. The defense presented a 2006 email in which Ms. Holmes sent Mr. Lucas detailed financial information. (However, this may undermine another defense argument: that investors were careless and at least partially to blame.)
The trial is also a referendum on Silicon Valley’s start-up culture. If Ms. Holmes is found guilty, it would put truth-stretching start-up founders on notice. But if she is acquitted, it would bolster the tech industry’s “fake it til you make it” approach.
“A non-guilty verdict will vindicate a Silicon Valley culture of celebrating aggressive innovation at the expense of the complete and whole truth,” said Jeffrey Cohen of Boston College Law School.
The Walt Disney Company has paused a coronavirus vaccine mandate for employees of its Florida theme park after the State Legislature and the governor made it illegal for employers to require all workers get the shots, a company spokesperson confirmed Saturday.
Walt Disney World could have been facing fines under the policy, illustrating how even one of the most well-known tourism brands in the state has to deal with the headwinds of political debate over the pandemic response.
The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature delivered the bill blocking Covid-19 vaccine mandates on Wednesday and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law on Thursday, casting the measures as an effort to protect workers who could lose their jobs for lack of compliance.
Governor DeSantis, also a Republican, has been at the forefront of the political fight to curtail mask and vaccine mandates, saying the push against those restrictions counters overreach from the federal government. “Nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed Covid mandates, and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida,” the governor said in a statement.
The Biden administration has ordered vaccinations for workers in large companies and members of the federal work force, but the effort has met resistance across the country. Florida is among states that have challenged federal mandates in court.
The new Florida law prohibits employers from enforcing strict vaccine mandates, allowing employees to choose exemptions that include health or religious concerns, pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy, and having had the virus and recovered from it. Unvaccinated workers could instead undergo periodic testing or wear protective equipment, at the employers’ cost. Fines for violation could cost $10,000 a day per employee violation for businesses with fewer than 99 employees or up to $50,000 per employee violation for larger businesses.
Government entities and school districts are also restricted by the Covid mandate ban.
Disney World previously struck a deal with employees to require theme park workers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus to keep their jobs, and the company defended that rule in a statement Saturday. “We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our cast members and guests,” the statement said.
Walt Disney’s website tells visitors it has been “very intentional and gradual” in operating safely, recommending guests exercise caution: wearing face coverings, checking for symptoms and getting the shots. “We encourage people to get vaccinated,” it says.
Todd Gregory contributed to this report.
BARCELONA, Spain — Protesters in Barcelona are pushing back against foreign investment firms that have bought up thousands of homes over the past decade and are forcing out residents who can’t pay the rent.
Giant investment firms like Cerberus Capital Management, Blackstone and Lone Star have been snapping up properties across Spain at bargain prices since the global financial crisis that began in 2008. The firms then put them up for rent at a time when the country’s economy was on a stronger footing.
But the pandemic pushed the Spanish unemployment rate up to 15 percent and evictions nationwide spiked in the first half of 2021. The investment firm landlords sent out a slew of eviction notices to tenants across the country or canceled leases for those who fell behind on the rent, residents said.
In the streets of Barcelona, a group called War Against Cerberus decided to fight back.
When lawyers of private equity firms come with police officers to force residents from their homes, members of the group — some of them longtime housing activists — surround the building to block their entry. As residents are pushed out of apartments, the group sends squatters to occupy properties owned by the firms elsewhere in the city — sometimes breaking in to gain entry.
The activists even took over the offices of a Cerberus real estate servicer in Barcelona for a time last year.
According to War Against Cerberus, dozens of families have occupied buildings owned by private equity firms in Barcelona, which has long been a target of outside investors. That can translate into years of courtroom hearings and millions of dollars in legal fees to remove the squatters.
“This property belongs to Cerberus,” said Ana María Banegas, a resident who, along with a dozen other families, has occupied a building in central Barcelona since April and now refuses to leave. “And from this home, we aim to pressure them.”
Miquel Hernández, a spokesman for War Against Cerberus who helped Ms. Banegas find the home where she is squatting, accused the private equity firms of profiting from the economic distress caused by the pandemic.
“They’re treating them like any other asset,” he said, referring to the homes owned by the firms.
The problem has caught the attention of Spain’s national government, led by a left-wing coalition. It has proposed the imposition of rent controls on investment funds and other large landlords.
The proposed legislation, supported by Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, would allow for rent caps for owners with more than 10 properties in areas where rent increases have outpaced inflation.
“We have to civilize a market that has gotten out of control,” said Ms. Colau, a former housing activist who rose to power with an organization that fought against foreclosures. “A problem that was bad before the pandemic has suddenly gotten worse.”
Spain imposed a partial moratorium on evictions for much of the pandemic, but only for those in “vulnerable situations,” such as single parents. In cases that went to the courts, the judiciary was seen as siding largely with the landlords.
In the first quarter of 2021, evictions of renters in Spain rose by 14 percent compared with the same period the previous year, according to the government. By the second quarter of this year, they surged to eight times as many as in the same period in 2020.
Samuel Aranda contributed reporting from Barcelona.
VIENNA — Austria entered a nationwide lockdown on Monday, as Europe experiences a menacing fourth wave of the coronavirus, with soaring rates of infection.
The lockdown, in which people are allowed to leave their homes only to go to work or to procure groceries or medicines, will last at least 10 days and as many as 20 and comes after months of struggling attempts to halt the contagion through widespread testing and partial restrictions.
While Austria may be the first European country to respond with a lockdown, it may not be the last. That prospect, along with increasingly stringent vaccine mandates, has set off a backlash in Austria and elsewhere, with mass demonstrations in Vienna, Brussels and the Dutch city of Rotterdam over the weekend, sometimes punctuated with violent outbreaks.
The new Covid wave is being driven by widespread resistance to vaccines and the growing prevalence of vaccine and mask mandates. Austrian officials have said they will enforce a nationwide vaccine mandate in February, the first European nation to do so.
Austria, where 66 percent of the population is vaccinated, reported more than 14,000 new cases of the virus within 24 hours on Sunday. Over the past week the Netherlands has been averaging more than 20,000, while Germany has seen roughly double that number.
The opposition to the lockdown and vaccine mandates in Austria is being fueled in part by the far-right Freedom Party, which has used its platform in the Austrian Parliament to spread doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccines and to promote ivermectin, a drug typically used to treat parasitic worms that has repeatedly failed against the coronavirus in clinical trials.
But the fury is not limited to far-right activists, as the throngs that filled Vienna’s streets on Saturday attested. The police estimated the crowd at 40,000, with many families and others far outnumbering the right-wing extremists.