The prosecution and the defense are due to open the ball on Wednesday in the fraud trial against the whimsical South African billionaire Elon Musk, which began the day before in San Francisco.
The nine-person jury, appointed on Tuesday, will have to decide whether a tweet written by the boss of Tesla in 2018 was fraudulent, as accused by investors.
The case dates back to August 2018, when Elon Musk tweeted that he wanted to take Tesla out of the stock market since he had the necessary funding to do so. His messages had caused the stock to swing sharply for a few days.
“Plaintiffs allege that these tweets were factually false and artificially affected Tesla’s stock price and other securities,” Judge Edward Chen summed up for potential jurors.
On Friday, the magistrate refused to disorient the trial in Texas, the American state where the multi-billionaire moved the headquarters of Tesla, ensuring that an impartial jury could be constituted in the Californian city.
The defence argued that their client could not benefit from an impartial trial in San Francisco, where he acquired Twitter in late October and was widely criticized for his decisions, from the platform’s content moderation policy to mass layoffs.
“In recent months, local media have saturated this district with biased and negative stories about Mr Musk,” the attorneys said in a motion.
“The local press, contrary to its usual way of covering (the social plans), personally blamed Mr Musk for the job cuts and even accused him of breaking the law. Local elected officials, including the mayor of San Francisco, participated in protests against him,” they continued.
In addition to Elon Musk, Tesla is also implicated in this procedure as a legal person as well as the members of the manufacturer’s board of directors at the material time.
On Tuesday, the court reviewed the responses of dozens of potential jurors to a questionnaire, which included their opinion of Elon Musk. “You put: He’s too bad (…) What do you mean?”, for example, asked the judge to a woman.
“You have described Mr Musk as arrogant, unpredictable and sometimes irrational. Could you explain if this opinion is based on what happened on Twitter?”, he asked another person.
“Gifted but barred”, wrote another citizen, then ensuring that she would be able to be “neutral” if she were selected within the jury. A potential juror admitted to him that he would probably not be impartial. “There’s also the billionaire aspect. I’m not a huge fan of those people,” he said.
In other questionnaires, the controversial boss was described as a ‘rising businessman’ and a ‘successful pioneer’.
Alex Spiro, Elon Musk’s lawyer, urged future jurors to stay “open-minded” even if they will hear the prosecution’s version first. Even before the selection, he insisted on the need not to mention “recent events at Twitter”.
The trial is scheduled to last three weeks. Elon Musk is on the witness list.
In a previous decision related to this case, the judge ruled that the infamous 2018 tweet could be considered “false and misleading”.
The short messages from the boss of Tesla have already earned him numerous disputes with the authorities. The American stock market policeman, the SEC, had also filed a complaint at the time, believing that Elon Musk had not provided proof of his financing.
The regulator then forced him to hand over the chairmanship of Tesla’s board of directors, pay a $20 million fine and later demanded that his tweets directly related to Tesla’s activity be pre-approved by a lawyer. competent.
Elon Musk tried again in the spring to have this decision invalidated, in vain.