Elon Musk subpoenas former Twitter chief Jack Dorsey in takeover row

Former Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey (right) was served a legal order to give Mr Elon Musk documents related to the takeover deal dating back to January 2019. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - Tesla boss Elon Musk has served former Twitter boss Jack Dorsey with a subpoena in a hunt for material to help him get out of buying the giant social media platform for US$44 billion (S$61.5 billion) as agreed.

Records made public on Monday (Aug 22) show that Mr Dorsey was served with a legal order to give Mr Musk any communications or documents related to the takeover deal inked in April, as well as information touching on false or spam accounts or how Twitter calculates the number of its active users.

The subpoena asks for anything Mr Dorsey has on the topics dating back to January 2019.

Mr Musk, the world's wealthiest man, has accused Twitter of fraud, alleging the company misled him about key aspects of its business, particularly the number of accounts that are actually spam or automated "bots" instead of people.

Twitter has stuck by its estimates that bots make up fewer than 5 per cent of users.

Twitter also disputed Mr Musk's assertion that he has the right to walk away if its bot count is found to be wrong, since he did not seek information on that topic when he made the buyout offer.

The company accuses Mr Musk of contriving a story to escape a merger agreement that he no longer found attractive.

Rival lawyers have been serving subpoenas for weeks seeking documents or depositions from a wide range of people connected with the buyout, running Twitter's business, and even with a holding company formed by Mr Musk.

Twitter co-founder Mr Dorsey in November last year ended his second stint as chief of the company and had voiced support for Mr Musk taking it over.

The Twitter deal included a provision that if the deal fell apart, the party breaking the agreement would pay a termination fee of US$1 billion under certain circumstances.

Billions of dollars are at stake, but so is the future of Twitter, which Mr Musk has said should allow any legal speech - an absolutist position that has sparked fears that the network could be used to incite violence.

The legal fight is gathering speed as preparations have begun for an October trial in Delaware's Chancery Court, which specialises in complex, high-stakes business battles.

Twitter has urged shareholders to endorse the deal, setting a vote on the merger for Sept 13.

While fielding questions at a recent Tesla shareholders meeting, Mr Musk was asked whether his potential ownership of Twitter might distract from his running of the electric car company.

"I think Tesla, you know, would continue to do very well even if I were kidnapped by aliens or went back to my home planet," he joked, drawing laughter and applause.

"To be frank, I don't have an easy answer," Mr Musk added.

He assured shareholders that, for now, he has no plans to leave his Tesla chief role.

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