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Lawsuit says Tesla, Elon Musk sought to 'burn' short-sellers

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The prominent short-seller Andrew Left has sued Tesla and its chief executive Elon Musk, saying Mr Musk fraudulently engineered his since-abandoned plan to take Tesla private to "burn" investors hoping the electric car company's stock price would fall.

[NEW YORK] The prominent short-seller Andrew Left has sued Tesla and its chief executive Elon Musk, saying Mr Musk fraudulently engineered his since-abandoned plan to take Tesla private to "burn" investors hoping the electric car company's stock price would fall.

Mr Left, who runs Citron Research, said in his proposed class-action complaint on Thursday that Mr Musk's issuance of materially false and misleading information harmed short-sellers as well as those hoping Tesla's stock price would rise.

The shareholder lawsuit is one of at least seven targeting Musk since he stunned investors on Twitter on Aug 7, saying he might take Tesla private in a US$72 billion transaction valuing the company at US$420 per share, and that "funding" had been "secured".

Mr Musk announced on Aug 24 that Tesla would stay public.

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Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Mr Left's lawsuit, which was filed in San Francisco federal court.

Short-sellers borrow shares they believe are overpriced, sell them, and then repurchase shares later at what they hope will be lower prices to make a profit.

Mr Musk has long used Twitter to criticise short-sellers, and Mr Left said his conduct violated federal securities laws.

"Defendant Musk artificially manipulated the price of Tesla securities with objectively false tweets in order to 'burn' the company's short-sellers," Mr Left said.

"In the succeeding days, the truth regarding the supposedly 'secure' financing needed to effectuate the going-private transaction began to emerge, exposing the fraudulent scheme," he added.

The proposed class period runs from Aug 7 to Aug 17, over which time Mr Left said he bought and sold millions of dollars of Tesla shares.

That period ended after the New York Times published an interview in which Mr Musk, who owns about one-fifth of Tesla, described severe stress he faced running the Palo Alto, California-based company.

Finally on the evening of Aug 24, a Friday, Mr Musk, by then facing US Securities and Exchange Commission scrutiny into the factual accuracy of the "secured" tweet, Mr Musk blogged that Tesla would remain public, citing investor resistance.

"The sentiment, in a nutshell, was 'please don't do this,'" he wrote.

Tesla shares were up 71 cents at US$281.45 on Thursday afternoon. They have lost more than one-quarter of their value since reaching an intraday high of US$387.46 on Aug 7.

REUTERS