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Saudis 'unequivocally' wanted to take Tesla private, Musk says

At high-profile trial, Musk admits to lack of sleep, cracks jokes about marijuana, and discusses deal-making with the Saudis
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is pictured in Gruenheide, Germany, on 22 March 2022 (AFP)

Elon Musk doubled down on his claim that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund promised to help him take Tesla private, during a high-profile federal court appearance Monday in San Fransisco.

Musk testified the fund “unequivocally wanted to take Tesla private” in 2018. Asked on the stand why he didn’t have anything in writing to support his pledge, Musk replied: “If they say they’re going to do something, they do. A signed document is neither here nor there.”

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 sovereign wealth fund had made a “handshake” agreement with him to front the money required to take Tesla off the stock market.

The case has offered a unique glimpse into Musk’s efforts to swing a deal with Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

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'Two to tango'

Text messages revealed in April court filings show how Musk felt betrayed by the PIF after a Bloomberg article appeared saying the two sides had not actually struck an agreement on Tesla, but 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, complaining about being thrown “under the bus” by a “weak sauce” statement from the PIF in response to the news report, according to court filings.

“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.

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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,” Rumayyan wrote, according to court filings.

The $620bn wealth fund is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and has emerged as the main vehicle for the 37-year-old leaders' attempts to overhaul the kingdom's oil-dependent economy. The fund accumulated a five percent stake in Tesla before Musk announced plans to take the company private.

Musk’s legal team subpoenaed Rumayyan in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to testify at the trial on Musk’s behalf. The PIF’s lawyers called the subpoenas “legally deficient” and “frankly, frivolous”.

Musk appeared in court wearing a dark suit. He admitted to having a bad night’s sleep and traded barbs with the plaintiff's lawyer about the price tag he put on Tesla's stock, which was $420 a share. The number 420 is a slang code for marijuana.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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