In what can only be described as a very 2018 crisis, Bloomberg is reporting that Tesla is under criminal investigation from the Department of Justice regarding CEO Elon Musk’s “public statements” about taking the company private, made last month. Those statements are likely the tweets that Musk issued, reportedly while driving himself to the airport, saying that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private.
Musk initially tweeted that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private on August 7th at a share price of $420. The brief statement caused wild movement in Tesla’s stock price over the following days. Musk followed up his initial tweet with a blog post explaining the structure he would seek to use, and in further posts, the Saudi Arabia sovreign wealth fund was touted as the primary backer.
However, Musk’s wild ride came to an end on August 25th, when he wrote another blog announcing that Tesla would stay public after all. The entire saga immediately posed legal issues for Tesla, first in the form of lawsuits from shareholders, who felt that Musk’s conduct cost them millions of dollars.
The spectre of action from the Securities and Exchange Commission was also raised, mostly related to the possibility of market manipulation. Musk has been locked in a war of words with Tesla “shorts,” investors who are betting on the company to fail, and if his tweets were proven to be designed to make the stock price move and punish the shorts, the SEC could take action.
“Federal prosecutors opened a fraud investigation after Musk tweeted last month that he was contemplating taking Tesla private and had “funding secured” for the deal,” Bloomberg wrote in its report today, adding that the criminal investigation is running alongside a civil investigation. While neither civil nor criminal investigation has charged Tesla or Musk with any wrongdoing so far, the news about the dual probes has been enough to tank Tesla’s stock price down to around $285, well below where it was trading when Musk posted his infamous tweet.