Chief executive Elon Musk has begun his testimony in a class action brought against him by Tesla investors with a stunning attack on Wall Street, claiming “sharks” in the trading world wished his EV manufacturer would “die”.
Mr Musk is on trial in San Francisco federal court on charges of fraud relating to a 2018 tweet in which he falsely claimed to have the funds to take Tesla private.
His testimony began with questions about his often erratic use of Twitter, which he bought in October.
His tweets did not always affect Tesla stock in the ways that he expected, Mr Musk said.
“Just because I tweet something does not mean people believe it or will act accordingly,” he told the jury.
Tesla was facing difficulties at the time he posted the 2018 tweet, Mr Musk said in the lead-up to his extraordinary claim against Wall Street.
“A bunch of sharks on Wall Street wanted Tesla to die very badly,” he said about short-sellers.
Short-sellers profit when a stock falls in price and have been betting against Tesla.
Mr Musk claimed short-sellers planted false stories, which he said should be made illegal.
The billionaire’s testimony in the class action trial was cut short by just 30 minutes before the court adjourned until Monday, during which he was not asked about the 2018 tweet.
He is expected later in the trial to face questions as to why he insisted he had the backing of a Saudi investor to take his EV-maker private, despite never having occurred, and whether he made a materially misleading statement with the tweet.
Earlier on Friday, Tesla investor Timothy Fries told the jury he lost US$5000 buying Tesla stock after Mr Musk’s tweet, which sparked significant volatility in the stock price.
Mr Fries said that he interpreted “funding secured” as “there had been some vetting, some critical review of those funding sources”.
Mr Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro told the jury in his opening statement on Wednesday that Mr Musk believed he had financing from Saudi backers and was making moves to close the deal.
Fearing leaks to the media, Mr Musk had tried to protect the “everyday shareholder” with the tweet, which contained “technical inaccuracies”, Mr Spiro said.
A jury of six men and three women will determine whether the tweet artificially inflated Tesla’s share price by exaggerating the deal’s status and, if so, by how much.
The defendants include current, and former Tesla directors, whom Mr Spiro said had “pure” motives in their response to Mr Musk’s plan.