SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP/CNN) — The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint against CEO Elon Musk over a nine-word tweet to his 22 million Twitter followers that he had lined up adequate financing to take the company private.
In the complaint, CNBC said, were fraud charges related to the August 7th tweets. Word of the complaint sent the stock tumbling more than 13 percent in after-hour trading.
“In truth and in fact, Musk had not even discussed, much less confirmed, key deal terms, including price, with any potential funding source,” the SEC said in its complaint.
“Musk’s false and misleading public statements and omissions caused significant confusion and disruption in the market for Tesla’s stock and resulting harm to investors,” the complaint continued.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The commission is asking the court for an order stopping him from making false and misleading statements along with repayment of any gains as well as civil penalties.
The stock is roughly 30 percent off its 52-week high of $387.
The SEC said the investigation was swift and the commission saw no reason to wait to charge Elon Musk with fraud,
In a prepared statement, Musk called the SEC action “unjustified.”
“This unjustified action by the SEC leaves me deeply saddened and disappointed,” Musk said. “I have always taken action in the best interests of truth, transparency and investors. Integrity is the most important value in my life and the facts will show I never compromised this in any way.”
Government regulators subpoenaed Tesla in August demanding information from each of Tesla’s nine directors. The subpoena signaled that regulators had opened a formal investigation into whether Musk was telling the truth in his tweet about have financing locked up for a deal that analysts have estimated would require $25 billion to $50 billion.
Musk falsely claimed in an Aug. 7 Twitter post that funding was secured to take the company private at $420 per share. In the SEC filing, regulators claim the $420 price actually was a joke for his girlfriend.
“According to Musk, he calculated the $420 price per share based on a 20% premium over that day’s closing share price because he thought 20% was a “standard premium” in going-private transactions,” the complaint read. “He rounded the price up to $420 because he had recently learned about the number’s significance in marijuana culture and thought his girlfriend ‘would find it funny, which admittedly is not a great reason to pick a price.'”
He also revealed in the same post that he had been talking to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund about providing the money for a buyout that would end Tesla’s eight-year history as a publicly held company, but he added that the financing was still contingent on due diligence.
Musk abandoned the plan after less than three weeks. He later said his “funding secured” comment was based on talks with the Saudi fund, which he said had urged him to take the company private and offered to increase its investment in Tesla.
Critics said such conversations were a long way from having “funding secured” for taking the company private at a stock price significantly higher than where it was trading.
Ann Skeet, an ethics expert at Santa Clara University, questioned the sense of the social media post.
“I thought that tweet was unusual and probably not a good idea,” said Skeet. “We don’t expect to get our formal communications from the leaders of companies through Twitter.”
With the SEC now seeking an injunction to block Musk from becoming a director or executive of any other company, Skeet says they are sending a strong message to corporate America.
“I think there is an attempt here to reset the standard of behavior and an executive normal we had seen previously but maybe has been eroded somewhat by CEO is using social media,” said Skeet.
The Justice Department is also investigating whether comments made by Musk. The company said it had received a voluntary request for documents and is cooperating. Tesla said it had not been subpoenaed.
Shareholders have also filed lawsuits charging that Musk made the claim to manipulate the stock price, and several news outlets reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the matter.
Crisis management expert Sam Singer told KPIX 5 the SEC announcement follows a series of telling interviews sparking concerns about Musk’s judgement and mental stability.
“That’s a smorgasbord of public relation catastrophes. That’s gonna make people wonder of the stability of Musk as a leader and CEO,” said Singer.
In February, he showed CBS journalist Gayl King a space on the floor where he often sleeps while working 120 hours a week.
That was months before breaking down during an interview with the New York Times.
“Elon is not in position to be giving one-on-one interviews with media and should be listening more to his internal PR team who are, I’m sure, advising him not to be doing the things he doing, said Singer.
But many are quick to defend Musk’s eccentric behavior. Some say it is a symptom of the genius behind some for the most prolific companies of our time in Telsa, Space X and PayPal to name a few.
“Elon is exceptionally bright and highly successful, but that doesn’t mean the same rules and laws don’t apply to him,” said Singer. “Weather it’s smoking dope or tweeting, he’s breaking the bounds of what the public believes a CEO should act.”
Elon hasn’t tweeted anything since September 25th. Singer notes that avoiding interviews and social media is probably the best thing Musk can do right now under the circumstances
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.