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Tesla and Elon Musk settle with SEC: $40M fine, CEO to step down as Chairman

Two days after the United States Securities and Exchange Commision filed suit against Elon Musk for allegedly misleading investors with his “funding secured” announcement on Twitter about Tesla’s possible privatization at $420 per share, the CEO and the agency have reached a settlement. The settlement’s announcement was posted by the SEC in a press release shortly before 3 p.m. PST on Saturday.

As part of the settlement, Elon Musk would pay a personal fine of $20 million, on top of another $20 million penalty for Tesla Inc. The $40 million in total fines will be distributed to investors that were “harmed” by Elon Musk’s Twitter announcements.

By opting for a settlement, Elon Musk would be allowed to remain as the CEO of Tesla Inc., though he would be required to step down as Chairman of the Board. Musk is given a 45-day period to resign from his position as the Board’s Chairman. Under the terms of the settlement, Musk is also prohibited from serving as Chairman of the Board for at least three years. 

Also resulting from Elon Musk and the SEC’s settlement is the appointment of two new independent board members. Tesla is required to create an independent committee that’s specifically tasked to oversee investor communications as well. Perhaps most notably, settling the case does not require Elon Musk to admit guilt to the SEC’s allegations in its lawsuit.

While being forced out of his place as Chairman of Tesla’s Board of Directors would be a big blow to Elon Musk (considering that he’s held the post for nearly 15 years), agreeing to a settlement with the SEC could very well be the best strategy to adopt at this point. Tesla, after all, is on the verge of reaching new milestones, as the company is expected to break both production and delivery records this Q3. At this point in Tesla’s development, the last thing the company needs is a lawsuit hanging over its Chief Executive’s head. If any, the creation of a committee that oversees investor communications would likely benefit Tesla in the long term. The committee, for one, could prevent similar incidents such as Elon Musk’s “funding secured” fiasco from happening again in the future.

Following is the SEC’s press release about the settlement regarding its case against Elon Musk.

Washington D.C., Sept. 29, 2018 — The Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman of Silicon Valley-based Tesla, Inc., has agreed to settle the securities fraud charge brought by the SEC against him last week.  The SEC also today charged Tesla with failing to have required disclosure controls and procedures relating to Musk’s tweets, a charge that Tesla has agreed to settle. The settlements, which are subject to court approval, will result in comprehensive corporate governance and other reforms at Tesla—including Musk’s removal as Chairman of the Tesla board—and the payment by Musk and Tesla of financial penalties.

According to the SEC’s complaint against him, Musk tweeted on August 7, 2018 that he could take Tesla private at $420 per share — a substantial premium to its trading price at the time — that funding for the transaction had been secured, and that the only remaining uncertainty was a shareholder vote.  The SEC’s complaint alleged that, in truth, Musk knew that the potential transaction was uncertain and subject to numerous contingencies. Musk had not discussed specific deal terms, including price, with any potential financing partners, and his statements about the possible transaction lacked an adequate basis in fact.  According to the SEC’s complaint, Musk’s misleading tweets caused Tesla’s stock price to jump by over six percent on August 7, and led to significant market disruption.

According to the SEC’s complaint against Tesla, despite notifying the market in 2013 that it intended to use Musk’s Twitter account as a means of announcing material information about Tesla and encouraging investors to review Musk’s tweets, Tesla had no disclosure controls or procedures in place to determine whether Musk’s tweets contained information required to be disclosed in Tesla’s SEC filings.  Nor did it have sufficient processes in place to that Musk’s tweets were accurate or complete.

Musk and Tesla have agreed to settle the charges against them without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations.  Among other relief, the settlements require that:

  • Musk will step down as Tesla’s Chairman and be replaced by an independent Chairman.  Musk will be ineligible to be re-elected Chairman for three years;
  • Tesla will appoint a total of two new independent directors to its board;
  • Tesla will establish a new committee of independent directors and put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications;
  • Musk and Tesla will each pay a separate $20 million penalty.  The $40 million in penalties will be distributed to harmed investors under a court-approved process.

“The total package of remedies and relief announced today are specifically designed to address the misconduct at issue by strengthening Tesla’s corporate governance and oversight in order to protect investors,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

“As a result of the settlement, Elon Musk will no longer be Chairman of Tesla, Tesla’s board will adopt important reforms —including an obligation to oversee Musk’s communications with investors—and both will pay financial penalties,” added Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.  “The resolution is intended to prevent further market disruption and harm to Tesla’s shareholders.”

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Walker Newell, Brent Smyth, and Barrett Atwood and supervised by Steven Buchholz, Erin Schneider, and Jina Choi in the San Francisco Regional Office and Cheryl Crumpton in the SEC’s Home Office.

Story developing.

Tesla and Elon Musk settle with SEC: $40M fine, CEO to step down as Chairman
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