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Founder of truck maker Nikola resigns after fraud allegations

[NEW YORK] The founder and executive chairman of embattled zero-emission truck maker Nikola has resigned, the company announced Sunday, after allegations of fraud which sparked a stock tumble and a regulatory investigation.

The Phoenix-based company said in a statement that it had accepted Trevor Milton's resignation and that he would be replaced by Stephen Girsky, a Nikola board member and former vice-chairman at General Motors (GM).

Founded by Mr Milton in 2015 to develop trucks and pick-ups powered by electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, Nikola has not yet built anything, but caught attention by signing strategic partnerships with such renowned groups as GM and German engineering giant Bosch.

The announcement of the GM partnership on September 8 caused shares to leap 41 per cent on the New York Stock Exchange.

But two days later, investment company Hindenburg Research published a report accusing the startup of "intricate fraud" based on multiple lies by Mr Milton, who it said "misled partners into signing agreements by falsely claiming to have extensive proprietary technology." That announcement triggered a plummet in share value, with stock diving 36 per cent in three days.

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It also sparked an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to sources cited by Bloomberg.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Mr Milton said: "The focus should be on the Company and its world-changing mission, not me. I intend to defend myself against false allegations levelled against me by outside detractors." Nikola had rejected most of the claims in the Hindenburg report.

But it did not deny that it staged a 2017 video of one of its prototypes apparently in action.

According to Hindenburg, "Nikola had the truck towed to the top of a hill on a remote stretch of road and simply filmed it rolling down the hill." Nikola responded that it had "never stated its truck was driving under its own propulsion in the video" but had simply said that it had been "in motion.

AFP

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