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Saudi wealth fund chief will not testify at Elon Musk’s Tesla trial

Musk defends fraud charges, claiming he was 'misled' by the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund
CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk speaks at the Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing Cyber Rodeo grand opening in Austin, Texas, on 6 April 2022 (AFP)

The head of Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund will not testify on behalf of Elon Musk at a San Francisco court trial over allegations that the billionaire defrauded investors by promising to take Tesla private.

Musk’s legal team subpoenaed Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and chair of Saudi Aramco, on 19 December. Rumayyan’s lawyers agreed with the judge that they were not required to comply with the subpoena for the trial set to begin later this month.

Musk, the world's second-richest man, is enmeshed in a lawsuit by investors who claim he manipulated Tesla's share price in 2018, costing them billions of dollars by claiming in a tweet that he had "funding secured" to take the electric vehicle maker private at $420 a share.

Musk has defended the post, saying the chief of the Saudi fund had reached a “handshake” agreement with him to front the money required to take Tesla private.

'Don't treat me like an enemy' 

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Text messages revealed in April court filings show how Musk felt betrayed by the PIF after a Bloomberg article appeared saying the two sides were merely engaged in talks.

“You said you were definitely interested in taking Tesla private and had wanted to do so since 2016,” Musk wrote to Rumayyan in a text message exchange on 12 August 2018, a few days after the Bloomberg report surfaced.

The Tesla chief said he had been thrown “under the bus” by a “weak sauce” statement issued by the PIF in response to the news report, according to court filings.

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“You also made it clear that you were the decision maker, moreover backed strongly by the crown prince, who regards this as strategically important at a national level,” Musk added.

Rumayyan countered, texting the Tesla chief that he had not received the financial information needed to make a decision.

“[It] takes two to tango,” he wrote. “Let’s see the numbers and get our people to meet and discuss. We cannot approve something that we don’t have sufficient information on.”

“I am your friend. So, please don’t treat me like an enemy,” he wrote, according to court filings.

Musk has put the spat with the Saudis at the centre of his legal case.

“Mr. Al-Rumayyan expressed that the PIF could easily provide the necessary funding,” Musk’s lawyers said in a court filing. “Mr Musk understood based on these conversations that, if he wanted to take Tesla private, the PIF would do it.”

Musk will now have to make his case based on the text exchanges, without the ability to question the Saudi officials.

The PIF chief’s lawyers said Musk’s request for a subpoena was voluntary and fell outside the jurisdiction of the San Francisco court. The PIF had to formally request the judge on the trial to reject them, the fund said in Thursday’s court filing.

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