Elon Musk avoided press waiting for a glimpse of him heading into San Francisco federal court, where he defended himself against an accusation that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share amounted to fraud
San Francisco (AFP) - Elon Musk on Monday told jurors that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share was no joke and that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was serious about helping him do it.
Tesla chief Musk returned to the witness stand on Monday to answer questions by lawyers for angry investors who accuse him of costing them millions of dollars with a pair of allegedly false tweets about having funding secured to buy them out.
Much of the focus was put on Musk’s buyout figure of 420, a number that is also a popular rallying code for marijuana, which Musk uses.
“420 was not chosen because of a joke; it was chosen because there was a 20 percent premium over the stock price,” Musk said when asked if he was having a laugh when he made the tweet.
Musk added, however, that there was “some karma around 420”, though “I should question whether that is good or bad karma at this point.”
The tweets in 2018 sent the Tesla share price on a rollercoaster ride and Musk was sued by shareholders who say the tycoon acted recklessly in an effort to squeeze investors who had bet, or “gone short,” against the company.
Musk has expressed loathing for short sellers, and referred to them at the trial as “evil.”
“It’s difficult to appreciate just now just how much attack Tesla was under by short sellers who wanted Tesla to die,” Musk told jurors.
- ‘Infamous’ tweet -
But Musk said he fired off the first of the tweets at issue after learning of a Financial Times story about a Saudi Arabian investment fund wanting to acquire a stake in Tesla.
“My concern was that if they knew all of this information, then they could also potentially know about the take-private,” Musk said of the news report.
Whatever the case, Musk told jurors that the influence of his tweets was overestimated and that investors often went against his recommendations.
Under questioning by a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Musk testified that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was “unequivocally, without question” supportive of his project, adding that the head of the fund told him that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was also on board.
“So essentially I took that to mean it was a done deal,” Musk said.
During testimony last week, a Harvard professor called as an expert witness by the plaintiffs said that Musk’s plans were “illusory” and deviated wildly from the way such mega-deals usually take place.
In his own opening remarks, Musk attorney Alex Spiro said that even though the tweets may have been a “reckless choice of words”, they were “not fraud, not even close.”