Elon Musk unintentionally avoided a real crisis of happenstance this fall.
Just a few weeks after Musk shelved an ambitious plan to take Tesla private — financed, in his mind, by the government of Saudi Arabia — that government invited the scorn of the business community as it slowly admitted that a Saudi critic, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, had been brutally murdered.
Musk got lucky — he would have been at the center of that human-rights drama.
So, knowing what he knows now, would he take Saudi money now?
“I think we probably would not,” Elon Musk told Kara Swisher on a new episode of Recode Decode. “That sounds pretty bad. So that is not good,” he said, haltingly, of Khashoggi’s death. “That is bad. That is really bad.”
Those were Musk’s first public comments on the topic since the news of Khashoggi’s killing emerged. The Saudis reportedly have a $2 billion position in Tesla as a public company, but it has not gone unnoticed that Musk got really fortunate. Some companies that have been in talks with the Saudis about taking on a new investment decided to cut off discussions as the truth came to light.
But a few moments after saying he’d be disinclined to take Saudi cash, Musk urged people to recognize that not all Saudi cash is the same.
“You don’t want to — if there’s one really bad thing that occurred — nail down the whole country,” Musk said. “We should just consider that there is a whole country … and there are a lot of good people in Saudi Arabia.”
Musk was initially talking with the Saudi Arabian government’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, about the plan to take the carmaker private.
After a chaotic few weeks, though, Musk said he no longer thought the take-private plan was wise — for reasons that had nothing to do with the ethics of the Saudi government.