The SEC has officially announced the $125 million fine given to Nikola Motor following the agency’s fraud accusations against the company’s founder, Trevor Milton.
“The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that Nikola Corporation, a publicly-traded company created through a special purpose acquisition company transaction, has agreed to pay $125 million to settle charges that it defrauded investors by misleading them about its products, technical advancements, and commercial prospects,” the SEC wrote in a statement today announcing the sanctions. “The settlement follows the SEC’s litigated action filed earlier this year against Trevor Milton, the company’s founder and former Chief Executive Officer and Executive Chairman.”
In July, Milton was indicted on three counts of criminal fraud for lying about “nearly all aspects” of the Nikola business. The origins of the suit can be traced back to a report from Hindenburg Research published in September 2020, which accused the company, and Milton, of misleading investors through a series of lies and fabrications that inappropriately described the company’s state of development. Nikola was labeled “an intricate fraud” by Hindenburg in the report, with the biggest bombshell claim relating to the development of the Nikola One, a semi-truck prototype. The report claimed the vehicle was not self-propelled and was rolling down a low-grade hill, giving the impression that the vehicle was moving on its own. Nikola later admitted that it was unwilling to put more money into the prototype, and eventually confirmed the vehicle was not powered by a motor but was, in fact, drifting down a hill.
Milton also fabricated information related to the Nikola Tre, another vehicle that was in development. Milton stated that production units were rolling off of assembly lines at a plant in Ulm, Germany. This was also proven to be a false claim, as Bosch, the manufacturing partner building the trucks at its Ulm facility, confirmed that no Nikola products had been completely manufactured at the plant.
“As the order finds, Nikola Corporation is responsible both for Milton’s allegedly misleading statements and for other alleged deceptions, all of which falsely portrayed the true state of the company’s business and technology,” Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of SEC Divison of Enforcement, said. “This misconduct — and the harm it inflicted on retail investors — merits the strong remedies today’s settlement provides.”
Nikola was found to have violated the antifraud and disclosure control provisions of federal securities laws, the SEC’s order states. Nikola, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, agreed to pay the $125 million penalty and to cease and desist from future violations of the charged provisions. The fine will set Nikola back $125 million. The SEC order also established a Fair Fund to return penalty proceeds to victim investors.
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