Wednesday, November 29News That Matters

Regulators accuse Tesla's Elon Musk of securities fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a lawsuit accusing Tesla boss Elon Musk of securities fraud.

The US financial regulator says Mr Musk’s claims that he had secured funding to take the electric carmaker private were “false and misleading”.

It is seeking to bar Mr Musk from acting as an officer or director of a publicly traded company.

Mr Musk called the action “unjustified” saying he acted in the “best interests of truth, transparency and investors”.

“Integrity is the most important value in my life and the facts will show I never compromised this in any way,” he said in a statement.

Mr Musk startled the business world last month when he took to Twitter to announce that he was considering a plan that would de-list the company from the stock exchange.

He wrote he had “funding secured” for the proposal, which would value Tesla at $ 420 per share.

The statements “created the misleading impression that taking Tesla private was subject only to Mr Musk choosing to do so and a shareholder vote”, according to the SEC complaint, which was filed on Thursday in federal court in New York.

“In truth and in fact Musk had not even discussed much less confirmed key deal terms, including price, with any potential funding source,” it said.

The 7 August tweets took even people within the company by surprise.

“Was this text legit?” the firm’s head of investor relations wrote to Mr Musk’s chief of staff, the complaint says.

‘Significant confusion’

Tesla shares soared after Mr Musk’s announcement, before retreating amid questions and doubts.

Weeks later, Mr Musk backed away from the plan, citing investor feedback.

The SEC, which is also seeking financial penalties, said his claims created “significant confusion” in the stock market and harmed investors.

“Taking care to provide truthful and accurate information is among a CEO’s most critical obligations,” said Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division.

“That standard applies with equal force when the communications are made via social media or another non-traditional form.”

Analysis – Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter, San Francisco:

Whatever the state of mind Elon Musk was in when he announced he had “funding secured”, it could end up costing almost everything he holds dear. It would be nobody’s fault but his own.

Wall Street veterans – and indeed, anyone with a modicum of knowledge of how the financial markets work – predicted this very scenario the moment those tweets were posted.

Mr Musk is famously an unconventional chief executive, but when it comes to the financial markets, you can’t flout the rules without serious consequences.

It’s clear, from emails contained in the SEC’s filing, that staff at Tesla were caught completely off guard. His head of investor relations asked if the tweets were “legit”. The Nasdaq, confused, halted trading. It all makes Mr Musk unfit to run a public company, the SEC says.

All this because of a tweet sent because Mr Musk thought his girlfriend “would find it funny”.

The SEC complaint sent shares of the firm down by more than 10% in after-hours trade.

It came after months of questions about Mr Musk’s erratic behaviour.

The 47-year-old is co-founder of Tesla and has served as chief executive since 2008. He is also the head of the rocket company SpaceX and is known for his bold ambitions including to colonise Mars.

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BBC News – Technology

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