Tesla boss begins fraud trial

Elon Musk at the unveiling of the Tesla Model X in Fremont, California on September 29, 2015 (AFP/File/SUSANA BATES)

More than four years after he tweeted that he would take Tesla public, Elon Musk must answer in court by investors hurt by his statements after already incurring the wrath of the authorities.

“Elon Musk, who was (then) the CEO of Tesla, lied and his lies caused people to lose millions of dollars,” said Nicholas Porritt, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

On August 10, 2018, they filed a complaint against the business executive for “artificially manipulating Tesla’s stock price to the utter detriment of investors” who were betting on a price drop.

The fraud trial opened Tuesday in San Francisco with the selection of a nine-person jury and is expected to last three weeks. Elon Musk is on the witness list.

He caused a stir on August 7, 2018, when he said he wanted to delist his group when its stock price reached $420.

He added that funding was “secured” to carry out the operation, and a few days later he said he was in talks with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in particular.

The electric carmaker’s title rose to $386.48. By Aug. 16, it was down to $335.45, according to figures Judge Edward Chen told the jury Tuesday.

– “Misleading Claims” –

“Plaintiffs intend to prove that the defendants made false or misleading statements that harmed them and that they were harmed during that time.”

In addition to Elon Musk, Tesla as a legal entity and the members of the manufacturer’s board of directors at that time also participate in this procedure.

For four and a half years, Elon Musk never stops explaining himself in this famous tweet.

Tesla quickly abandoned the idea of ​​delisting, but the American stock market police, the SEC, filed a complaint, believing that the boss had not provided evidence of his financing.

“These misleading claims created significant market disruption within minutes of the tweet,” SEC’s Steven Peikin said at a press conference.

The regulator ordered Elon Musk to step down as chairman of Tesla’s board of directors, pay a $20 million fine, and later required that his tweets directly related to Tesla’s business be pre-approved by an authorized lawyer.

The multibillionaire tried again in the spring to overturn this decision, to no avail.

But the authorities’ intervention has not dampened his appetite for provocation on Twitter, his beloved social network, which he purchased in October after months of detours and threats of a lawsuit.

– “Talented but forbidden” –

Since then, his controversial decisions at the top of the platform have drawn outrage almost daily, so much so that his lawyers last week asked a California judge to move the trial to Texas.

They fear their clients will not be able to benefit from an impartial trial in San Francisco, where Twitter is headquartered and where the local media has, according to them, “proliferated biased and negative coverage of Mr. Musk.”

On Tuesday, the judge and attorneys for both sides questioned potential jurors about their answers to the preliminary inquiry, including their thoughts on Elon Musk.

“You put: + He is very bad + (…) What do you mean?”, For example, the judge asked a woman.

One also described the businessman as “arrogant, unpredictable and sometimes irrational”, and the other as “talented but crazy”.

Other people see him as a “rising businessman” or a “successful pioneer”.

Elon Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, insisted Tuesday that he should not mention “recent events on Twitter” and asked prospective jurors to keep an “open mind.”

In a previous ruling on the case, the judge ruled that the popular 2018 tweet could be considered “false and misleading.”

© 2023 AFP

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