Elon Musk was painted on Wednesday as either a liar who callously put the savings of “ordinary people” at risk or a well-intentioned visionary as lawyers made opening statements at the lawsuit focused on the Tesla buyout, which never happened.

Lawyers for the opposing sides painted very different portraits of Musk for the nine-person jury that will hear the three-week trial. The case centers on two tweets in August 2018 that the billionaire posted on Twitter, which he now owns.

The tweets indicated that Musk had lined up financing to take Tesla private at a time when the automaker’s shares fell amid production problems.

The prospect of a $72 billion buyout fueled a rally in the company’s stock, which came to an abrupt halt a week after it became clear it ultimately lacked the funds to complete the deal. Tesla shareholders then sued him, saying Tesla’s stock price wouldn’t have fluctuated so much if he hadn’t considered buying the company at $420 a share.

Nicholas Porritt, a lawyer representing Glenn Littleton and other Tesla shareholders in the class-action lawsuit, immediately slammed Musk in his address to the jury.

“Why are we here?” Porit asked. “We’re here because Elon Musk, the chairman and CEO of Tesla, lied. His lies caused ordinary people like Glenn Littleton to lose millions upon millions of dollars.” He also claimed that Musk’s tweet also harmed pension funds and other entities that owned Tesla stock at the time.

Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, countered that the rise in Tesla shares after the tweet largely reflected investors’ faith in Musk’s ability to accomplish stunning feats, including building the world’s largest electric car maker and running SpaceX, a rocket ship maker.

“Mr. Musk is trying to do something that has never been done before. Everyone knows that,” Spiro told the jury.

Musk-Twitter reporters
Elon Musk in December 2022.

Susan Walsh/AP

Spiro added that Musk was in preliminary talks with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to take Tesla private.

“He didn’t plan on tweeting that,” Spiro said of Musk’s Aug. 7, 2018, statement that is at the heart of the lawsuit. “It was a split-second decision” aimed at being as transparent as possible in discussing a potential deal with the Saudi fund.

After saying that “funding has been secured” for the buyout, Musk followed up with another tweet that suggested a deal was imminent.

Littleton, a 71-year-old investor from Kansas City, Missouri, was the first witness called for the trial. He said Musk’s demand for funding alarmed him because he had purchased a Tesla investment designed to reward him for believing that the automaker’s stock would eventually be worth much more than $420.

He said he sold most of his holdings to cut his losses, but in the process the value of his Tesla portfolio fell by 75%.

“The damage was done,” lamented Littleton. “I was in a state of shock.”

Littleton’s frustrations escalated in October 2018 when he lashed out at Tesla for not delivering cars on time for some of his nieces and nephews. This led him to become the lead investor in the lawsuit.

“I still believe in Tesla to this day. I believe,” said Littleton.

During cross-examination, a lawyer for Tesla’s board repeatedly questioned whether Littleton had legitimate reasons to believe a buyout was imminent, but the investor remained steadfast, even if he appeared confused at times.

“The only thing that mattered to me was ‘secured funding,'” Littleton testified. “It was such a defining statement.”

Musk’s tweets in 2018 caught the attention of securities regulators, who concluded they were inaccurate and that he was lying. In the settlement they fforced him to pay 40 million dollars and demanded that he step down as chairman of Tesla.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, who is presiding over the trial, ruled that attorneys for the shareholders could not mention the settlement in the case.

But Chen has already ruled that Musk’s tweet was false, which can be cited during the trial without specific reference to the judge’s decision. Polit took that opportunity during his opening statement to tell jurors that they must believe Musk’s tweet was false, as the judge allowed. Spyro shook his head as he listened.

The outcome of the trial could affect the jury’s interpretation of Musk’s motives for the tweets. And Musk will have the opportunity to make his case before the jury.

After the trial was adjourned Wednesday, Porritt told The Associated Press he hoped to call Musk when the trial resumes Friday after two more witnesses testify. If time runs out on Friday, Musk will likely testify on Monday, Porritt said.

Musk’s management of Twitter — where he has uprooted staff and alienated users and advertisers — has proved unpopular with current Tesla shareholderswho are concerned that it gives less time to the automaker in a period of increased competition.

Those concerns contributed to a 65% decline in Tesla shares last year destroyed more than $700 billion in shareholder wealth — far more than the $14 billion swing that occurred between the highs and lows of the company’s stock from Aug. 7 to Aug. 17, 2018, the period at issue in the lawsuit.

Since then, Tesla stock has split twice, bringing the $420 price it tweeted in 2018 to $28 on an adjusted basis. Shares closed Wednesday at $128.78, down from the company’s November 2021 split-adjusted peak of $414.50.

After Musk abandoned the idea of ​​buying Tesla, the company overcame a production problem that led to a rapid rise in car sales, which sent its stock soaring and made Musk the richest man in the world until he bought Twitter. musk dropped from first place on the Rich List following the stock market’s reaction to his Twitter treatment.


Previous articleRussia says it has opened a criminal case against a US citizen accused of espionage
Next articlePennsylvania woman faces charges after her elderly parents were found shot and dismembered in their home