While testifying on Wednesday, Sam Teller, Elon Musk’s former chief of staff, stated that the Tesla CEO had a “handshake deal” with representatives from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund before the infamous “funding secured” tweet was posted on Twitter. Teller had worked closely with Musk from 2014 to 2019.
Elon Musk had already taken the stand earlier in the trial. During his testimony, the CEO maintained that he had valid reasons for disclosing his plans to take Tesla private. Had it succeeded, Tesla would have gone private at $420 per share pre-split, and be worth about $72 billion. For context, Tesla is worth $572 billion as of writing.
Teller was called to the stand by Musk’s legal team as a means to provide more details on Musk’s testimony. In his testimony, the former chief of staff stated that Musk and representatives from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund had held a series of meetings prior to the infamous tweet. The meetings reportedly began in January 2017 and the final one was done on July 31, 2018.
During the July 31, 2018 meeting, Teller noted that Musk was becoming excited about Tesla’s potential privatization. Musk reportedly spoke to Yasir al-Rumayyan, a governor for the Saudi fund, during the July 31, 2018 meeting. The former Elon Musk aide stated that when specific financing amounts were being discussed, the Tesla CEO pointed out that a Tesla buyout would be expensive.
“Yasir was, like, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ve got a lot of money,'” Teller commented, noting that at the end of the meeting, he had a sense that a deal had been reached. “It was my sense they made a handshake deal to proceed,” the former Musk aide said, as noted in a report from The Seattle Times.
Musk posted his infamous tweet on August 7, 2018, a week after his positive meeting with the Saudi PIF governor. Interestingly enough, Musk’s tweet was reportedly posted shortly after the CEO was alerted that a report in the Financial Times revealing the Saudi fund’s 5% stake in Tesla was about to be published.
At the time, Tesla was facing numerous challenges, including a constant stream of vitriol from short-sellers eager to push the company’s stock down. Elon Musk outlined this in a later message to Tesla employees explaining his reasons for his take-private efforts. The message was published on the company’s blog.
“As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction for everyone working at Tesla, all of whom are shareholders. Being public also subjects us to the quarterly earnings cycle that puts enormous pressure on Tesla to make decisions that may be right for a given quarter, but not necessarily right for the long-term. Finally, as the most shorted stock in the history of the stock market, being public means that there are large numbers of people who have the incentive to attack the company,” Musk wrote.
Overall, Teller noted that his job as Musk’s aide was akin to an air traffic controller. He also stated that there was a lot of problem-solving involved at all hours. It is this grueling schedule, the aide admitted, that ultimately convinced him to stop working for the Tesla CEO in 2019. “I was pretty tired, and it was time to do something else,” Teller said.
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