Elon Musk told jurors Monday 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.
The Tesla chief returned to the witness stand to answer questions from lawyers for angry investors who accuse him of costing them millions of dollars with a few supposedly bogus tweets about securing the funding to buy them out.
An attorney for prosecutors focused on Musk’s buyout number of 420, a number that’s also a popular aggregation code for marijuana, which Musk uses.
“420 was not chosen because of a joke; it was chosen because there was a 20 percent premium to the share price,” Musk said when asked if he laughed when he made the tweet.
However, Musk added that there was “some karma around 420,” though “I’d have to wonder if that’s good or bad karma right now.”
The case revolves around a pair of tweets in which Musk said “funding secured” for a project to buy out the publicly traded electric carmaker, adding in a second tweet that “investor support has been confirmed.”
The tweets sent Tesla’s stock price on a rollercoaster ride, and Musk was sued by shareholders who said the tycoon acted recklessly in an attempt to squeeze investors who had bet or “go short” against the company.
Musk referred to short sellers as “bad” during the process.
“It’s difficult to estimate at this point how much attack Tesla was under by short sellers who wanted Tesla to die,” Musk told the jurors.
– ‘Done deal’ –
But Musk said he fired off the tweets in question after learning of a story in the Financial Times about a Saudi Arabian investment fund seeking to acquire a stake in Tesla.
“My concern was that if they knew all this information, they might also know about the take-private,” Musk said of the news report.
Musk testified that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund “unequivocally, without question” supported his project, adding that the head of the fund told him Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was also on board.
“So essentially I took that as a foregone conclusion,” Musk said.
When confronted with exchanges with the Saudi fund showing they wanted more details before committing to his buyout plan, Musk said the fund was “regressing.”
Musk testified that he understood the fund would do whatever it took to take Tesla private and that he had enough money to do it.
The billionaire added that even without the Saudi fund, he had the personal wealth to take Tesla private at the time, including using his shares in SpaceX, the company he also runs.
Musk said he shared some details of his scheme with tech billionaire and Tesla investor Larry Ellison, who is one of several witnesses who will testify at the fraud trial.
During testimony last week, a Harvard professor called as a witness by prosecutors said Musk’s plans were “illusory” and a vast departure from the way such mega-deals usually happen.
In his own opening remarks, Musk attorney Alex Spiro said that while the tweets may have been a “reckless choice of words,” they were “not fraud, not even close.
“I’m being charged with fraud; it’s outrageous,” Musk said when his lawyer took over the questioning Monday.
The magnate’s testimony will be finalized on Tuesday.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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