Elon Musk’s 2018 Twitter post that implied he had secured funding from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to take Tesla shares private at $420 per share drew a skeptical reaction from a United States District Court Judge on Thursday.
During a court hearing on March 10, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen was skeptical of whether the Tweet was actually true based on Musk’s assertions that funding was secured to take Tesla private at $420 per share. “It seems to me it’s not factually very complicated,” Judge Chen said, according to a new report from Bloomberg. In fact, “funding had not been secured,” he added.
Tesla and Musk could now be headed to court for a legal battle with shareholders who claim they lost billions of dollars when shares declined after the CEO said he was considering taking the company’s shares private.
Now, lawyers on both sides are fighting to prove whether the statement was “indisputably false,” as the shareholder’s attorneys state, or if it was “entirely truthful,” like Musk’s lawyers, including Alex Spiro, said.
Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 7, 2018
Bloomberg adds that Judge Chen is being asked by investors to decide a couple of key legal issues on his own without the help of a jury. If Chen obliges with their requests, the trial would focus only on Musk’s Tweets and how they directly contributed to losses they assumed. Shareholder attorneys will have to prove that the losses came directly as a result of Musk’s communications, which were required to be regulated following a 2018 SEC settlement.
Earlier this week, Musk said, “I never lied to shareholders,” regarding the decree he agreed to in 2018. “I entered into the consent decree for the survival of Tesla, for the sake of its shareholders.”
Spiro, who has represented Musk in several cases, said he the overanalysis of the CEO’s Tweets could be an issue. “I do worry about dissecting it too much,” Sprio said to Judge Chen. Additionally, Spiro says that Tesla’s track record of accumulating investors and funding was never an issue. “None of Mr. Musk’s deals have ever had a funding issue.” Spiro added that investors may have interpreted the Tweet to mean “Elon might be making a bid to take it private.”
This claim was countered by Nicholas Porritt, the shareholders’ attorney, who said Musk’s use of the word secured is pretty clear. “Secured means it’s in the bag, it’s locked and loaded.” Porritt added that Musk never spoke to additional investors, and the Saudi fund was only going to take a small stake in the transaction. “The whole thing was so tentative, so pie in the sky at this point in time, that he never had an idea of how much money,” he said.
Judge Chen seemed to side with Porritt’s idea, as no conditions, pricing, or additional details that would make the deal concrete were finalized. “It seemed quite preliminary,” Judge Chen said, adding that he’d issue a final ruling at a later date.
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