Nikola mulls legal action against short-seller investor

Nikola Corp., the startup EV maker that this week announced a multibillion-dollar joint venture with General Motors, said on Friday it could take legal action against short-seller Hindenburg Research, which accused the company of being a “fraud” in a scathing report on Thursday.

The company also said it intended to bring the actions of the activist short-seller, together with evidence and documentation, to the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Nikola said it retained corporate litigator Kirkland & Ellis, a national law firm that also represents General Motors. In fact, Kirkland & Ellis represented GM in its recent racketeering lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that was later dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit.

“Yesterday, an activist short-seller whose motivation is to manipulate the market and profit from a manufactured decline in our stock price published a so-called “report” replete with misleading information and salacious accusations directed at our founder and executive chairman,” Nikola said in a statement. “To be clear, this was not a research report and it is not accurate. This was a hit job for short sale profit driven by greed.”

Nikola shares fell 11 percent on Thursday after Hindenburg Research published its report. The shares fell another 14 percent down to $32.24 in morning trading on Friday.

Hindenburg founder Nathan Anderson said in a statement on Friday that his firm would welcome a lawsuit by Nikola.

“The company answered none of the 53 questions we raised in our report after promising a full rebuttal,” he said. “We are pleased that Nikola is engaging with the SEC and we are not surprised that Trevor Milton (Nikola’s founder and executive chairman) is not commenting further on advice of counsel.”

Milton said in a tweet Friday he wouldn’t make any further comments “on the advice of counsel” other than to say that “Nikola approached the SEC, not the other way around.” He earlier said he would provide a “detail report” to address the allegations.

Hindenburg’s report — by a firm that owns a short position in the company’s stock and may stand to gain from a decline in the share price — alleges the maker of electric and hydrogen-fuel-cell heavy-duty vehicles made non-working products appear as fully functional. The report also alleges that Nikola staged misleading videos and told “dozens of lies” about its capabilities, partnerships or products, among other issues.

“Nikola has been vetted by some of the world’s most credible companies and investors,” the truck maker said in a Thursday statement to Bloomberg News. “We are on a path to success and will not waver based on a report filled with misleading information attempting to manipulate our stock.”

Milton initially responded to the report via a tweet, calling it a “hit job” and “lies.” He promised in a subsequent tweet to provide a detailed report to address what he called “one sided false claims.”

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