(San Francisco) Elon Musk tried to prove in court on Monday that his famous 2018 tweets about his desire to take Tesla off the stock market were not misleading or fraudulent, contrary to allegations from investors who say they lost millions dollars because of the billionaire.
The boss of Tesla – and of Twitter, since the end of October – assured that he had “never” tried to deceive investors, and that the fraud accusation was “scandalous”.
He had created astonishment on August 7, 2018 by saying he wanted to withdraw his automotive group from the stock market at a price of $420 per share, then assuring that the financing was “safe”.
“I wasn’t saying it was done, I was just saying that I was considering it, thinking about it. And that in my opinion the funding was safe,” Elon Musk said at the San Francisco courthouse bar where the trial is taking place.
Last week, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Nicholas Porritt, accused the executive of “lying” and being responsible for investors’ losses.
The stock jumped on the heels of the highly unusual tweets (and the NASDAQ temporarily suspended Tesla’s stock price), before falling over the next few days. Newspaper articles eventually revealed that the boss really didn’t have the funds.
Tesla remained publicly traded.
Through his questions, Nicholas Porritt tried to demonstrate that Elon Musk had not carried out the necessary consultations, and had neither the necessary elements nor the authority to make such a sensational announcement, especially on Twitter, and especially while the markets were open .
The lawyer highlighted the August 12, 2018 acrimonious exchanges between the billionaire and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the director of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, who had pledged “categorically” and “without hesitation” to finance the operation, according to Elon Musk.
“The funding wasn’t really secure, was it? asked Mrs. Porritt.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan “backtracked”, retorted the Tesla boss.
He assured that he had the opportunity to sell his shares in his other flagship, SpaceX, “the most valued privately held company in the United States.”
“It would have broken my heart (to sell them), but I would if I had to,” he said, referring to how he had to part ways with Tesla stock to buy Twitter last year. .
Dark suit, white shirt and tie, he appeared hesitant, not remembering many emails and details, and often answering questions to repeat at will the messages he wanted to convey to the jury.
To the point of making the investor lawyer lose his temper. “We spent a whole day together in Austin, remember Mr. Tweet? ! tossed Nicholas Porritt, before correcting for ‘Mr. Musk’.
The accusation also returned to the price offered by Elon Musk, 420 dollars per share. In the United States, the numbers 4 and 20 together are associated with cannabis use. When the billionaire offered to buy Twitter last spring, he chose a price of $54.20 per share.
“Did you round up to 420 as a joke on your girlfriend?” Nicholas Porritt asked.
“It was no joke, it represented a 20% premium above the share price,” Elon Musk retorted, acknowledging though that there is “a certain karma around 420.”
“Not sure if it’s good or bad karma at this point,” he joked again.
His lawyer Alex Spiro then helped him paint a portrait of an immigrant who came from nowhere to the United States – “where great things are possible” – after an “unhappy” childhood in South Africa, in the billionaire’s words.
“I’ve been called crazy many times,” Elon Musk said after listing the companies he co-founded.
But “at this point I think I’ve raised more money than anyone in history,” he boasted, attributing his success to his “honesty” with investors.
The trial is expected to last three weeks. In an earlier decision related to this case, a judge ruled that the famous 2018 tweet could be considered “false and misleading”.
The US stock market watchman, the SEC, had for its part forced Elon Musk to cede the presidency of the board of directors, pay a fine and have his tweets directly linked to Tesla’s business pre-approved by a lawyer.