Elon Musk sued by Twitter investors for 'market manipulation' during takeover bid

Mr Musk on May 25 pledged an additional US$6.25 billion in equity financing to fund his bid for Twitter. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Billionaire Elon Musk was sued by Twitter investors claiming he manipulated the company's stock price downwards, as the chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla mounted a US$44 billion (S$60.4 billion) takeover bid for the social media platform.

The investors said Mr Musk saved himself US$156 million by failing to disclose that he had purchased more than 5 per cent of Twitter by March 14. They asked to be certified as a class and to be awarded an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages.

They also named Twitter as a defendant, arguing that the company had an obligation to investigate Mr Musk's conduct, though they are not seeking damages from the firm.

The investors said Mr Musk continued to buy stock after that, and ultimately disclosed in early April that he owned 9.2 per cent of the company, according to the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday (May 25) in San Francisco federal court.

"By delaying his disclosure of his stake in Twitter, Mr Musk engaged in market manipulation and bought Twitter stock at an artificially low price," said the investors, led by Virginia resident William Heresniak.

Neither Mr Musk nor his lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment. Twitter declined to comment.

The investors said the recent drop in Tesla's stock has put Mr Musk's ability to finance his acquisition of Twitter in "major peril" since he has pledged his shares as collateral to secure the loans he needs to buy the company.

Tesla's shares were trading at around US$713 on Thursday afternoon, down from above US$1,000 in early April.

The timing of Mr Musk's disclosure of his stake has already triggered an investigation by the United States' Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

The SEC requires any investor who buys a stake exceeding 5 per cent in a company to disclose his holdings within 10 days of crossing the threshold.

The investors also said public criticism by Mr Musk of the company, including a May 13 tweet stating the buyout was "temporarily on hold" until Twitter proved that spam bots accounted for less than 5 per cent of its users, amounted to an attempt to further drive the share price down.

Mr Musk on Wednesday pledged an additional US$6.25 billion in equity financing to fund his bid for Twitter, a sign that he is still working to complete the deal.

Mr Musk was sued earlier this month in Delaware Chancery Court by a Florida pension fund seeking to halt the deal on the basis that some other big Twitter shareholders were supporting the buyout, a violation of Delaware law. Mr Heresniak's lawsuit does not seek to stop the takeover.

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