Shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) fell by more than 5% in midday trading Tuesday following a report that the Silicon Valley electric carmaker is under investigation by the US Justice Department over statements made by company CEO Elon Musk last month pertaining to the company’s possible privatization and the fact that funding had been “secured.”
News of the Justice Department’s investigation was related to Bloomberg News by two individuals familiar with the matter. The criminal investigation will reportedly run alongside a previously reported civil inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The criminal investigation is reportedly in its early stages.
Federal prosecutors reportedly opened the fraud investigation due to Elon Musk’s now-infamous “funding secured” tweet last August 9, which resulted in TSLA stock soaring 11% to $387.46, according to the publication’s sources. Inasmuch as the announcement pushed the company’s stock near its all-time highs on the day of Musk’s tweet, TSLA stock began a long trek down as questions emerged about the source of funding the CEO was referring to in his tweet.
Few details are currently known about the ongoing investigation. That being said, Justice Department probes like the civil inquiries being undertaken by the SEC, are known to take months to complete, with investigations at times ending with prosecutors deciding to take no enforcement action.
A few days after announcing that he is thinking of taking Tesla private, Elon Musk published a blog post stating that the “funding secured” tweet came from talks he has had with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which took a 5% stake in Tesla earlier this year. The weeks following these announcements were incredibly volatile, as SEC investigations were reportedly begun, lawsuits were filed, and TSLA shares took a dive.
Tesla, for its part, began the process for its possible privatization. Musk hired several high-profile advisers including bankers from Goldman Sachs, as well as attorneys from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. He also hired Silver Lake Partners’ Egon Durban, who brokered and helped bankroll the buyout of Dell when it went private. By August 22, Tesla’s advisers had a list of possible investors that would provide funding for the company’s privatization at $420 per share.
Among the investors that were willing to fund Elon Musk’s go-private initiative were German auto giant Volkswagen AG, as well as Silver Lake Partners itself. Together, the investors reportedly agreed to contribute as much as $30 billion for the deal. At this point, though, Elon Musk already had reservations, particularly since it would be incredibly difficult to bring over TSLA’s retail investors into a privatized Tesla.
Ultimately, Elon Musk opted to walk out of a possible $30 billion deal. An announcement about the company staying public was posted on Tesla’s official blog soon after. Since then, Tesla has focused itself on its original Q3 2018 targets — that is, the continued production ramp of the Model 3 and the company’s aim to become profitable. The company appears poised towards a record quarter, particularly after Elon Musk noted in a letter to employees that Tesla is “about to have the most amazing quarter in (its) history, building and delivering more than twice as many cars as (it) did last quarter.”
Following is Tesla’s official response to the reported DOJ investigation.
“Last month, following Elon’s announcement that he was considering taking the company private, Tesla received a voluntary request for documents from the DOJ and has been cooperative in responding to it. We have not received a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process. We respect the DOJ’s desire to get information about this and believe that the matter should be quickly resolved as they review the information they have received.”
As of writing, Tesla stock is trading down 2.22% at $288.27 per share.
This story is currently developing.