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Tesla whistle-blower files complaint with SEC

San Francisco

A FORMER Tesla Inc employee portrayed by chief executive officer Elon Musk as a saboteur has filed a whistle-blower tip to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), alleging the company made mis-statements and omissions to investors.

Martin Tripp, who used to be a process engineering technician at the company's battery factory in Nevada, quit on June 19 and was sued by the company shortly thereafter. He has accused the electric-car maker of inflating weekly Model 3 production figures by as much as 44 per cent. In a tip filed to the SEC on Friday, he also alleged that the company installed unsafe batteries in vehicles that may be at higher risk of catching fire later.

His allegations were summarised in a statement from Meissner Associates, a New York-based law firm that represented a former Monsanto Co employee who was awarded US$22 million in August 2016 for tipping off the SEC to improper accounting.

Stuart Meissner said he believes Tesla's lawsuit against Mr Tripp was part of a media campaign to defame and silence him.

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Mr Tripp, who has struggled to hire a lawyer to defend him against Tesla's lawsuit, has created a GoFundMe page; seeking US$500,000 in financial support, he has raised about US$14,000, said the website.

Mr Meissner said he won't be representing Mr Tripp in the federal lawsuit in Nevada. The former technician is now interviewing attorneys, Mr Meissner said on Wednesday.

Tesla representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Last month, the company accused Mr Tripp of writing a computer program to access proprietary information, sending material to three unidentified entities and attempting to cover his electronic tracks after he was denied a promotion.

Mr Tripp told the SEC that Tesla had installed punctured batteries, placed battery cells too close to one another and did not properly affix them; he also alleged that the company systematically reused parts that had been deemed scrap in vehicles.

SEC spokesman Judy Burns declined to comment.

The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the flammability of lithium-ion battery packs for electric cars, including several fires involving crashed Teslas.

Whistle-blowers are eligible for payouts if they voluntarily provide the SEC with unique information that leads to a successful enforcement action. Compensation can range from 10 per cent to 30 per cent of the money collected in any case that leads to a penalty of at least US$1 million. The SEC said it has awarded more than US$266 million since the inception of its whistle-blower programme in 2011. BLOOMBERG

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