Electric truck maker Nikola said Thursday it was approved for a $2 million grant from the Energy Department — news that comes despite the fact that the company’s founder and largest shareholder faces federal criminal charges for deceiving shareholders.
Nikola will receive the grant to develop refueling technologies to fuel its hydrogen fueling stations that will power the trucks it plans to build.
Pablo Koziner (president of Nikola’s energy-commercial unit) stated that funding was essential in order to develop key hydrogen fueling technologies. He also stressed that it is important to maintain safety and reliability standards. This is the second grant from the government to the company after a $1.7million grant in August 2019.
Nikola has not yet produced any trucks that are ready for sale. It has promised to build 25 and 50 trucks by the end of the year, but it is not certain it will have all the parts needed to complete the trucks as planned.
The company had to cut back on its promises and it was the ambitious claims regarding its progress, such as coming up with an economically viable way to make hydrogen, that caused Trevor Milton’s legal troubles.
Milton was arrested for wire and securities fraud on July 29th. He was accused by US prosecutors of making misleading statements about “nearly every aspect of the business”
Milton has sold 14.5 millions shares since his indictment and raised $148.2million. He still holds more than 63,000,000 shares of the company. This is 16% of its outstanding shares. It makes him the largest shareholder. In a late Thursday filing, Milton revealed about half of these sales.
Thursday’s defense of its grant process by the Department of Energy was based on the assertion that funding is awarded based upon a rigorous merit-based review process, which includes multiple technology experts reviewing applicants.
After Milton’s resignation as executive chairman, the company applied for the grant. The grant was officially awarded on July 7, three weeks prior to the indictment. However, the company didn’t announce it until Thursday.
But even before the indictment, the looming legal problems were well known as the company disclosed it had received subpoenas from both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company also admitted in a filing earlier this year that an internal investigation showed that Milton had deceived investors. Even though the company isn’t facing criminal charges, shareholders are being sued.
The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request to comment on the matter.
Hindenburg Research issued a statement in which it pointed out that Milton’s indictment specifically quoted Milton as saying that Nikola was producing hydrogen at a lower cost. However, [he] knew that no hydrogen was ever being produced by Nikola at any price.” Hindenburg stated that it is skeptical that a $2 million grant would make this lie a reality.
After Hindenburg Research made allegations about Milton’s deceitfulness, Milton was forced to step down as Nikola’s executive chairman in September. Hindenburg Research is a firm that shorts stocks of companies and bets on their future. However, his separation agreement requires that Nikola continue to support his legal defense. According to the company, $8 million has been set aside for these costs
Officials at Nikola have stated that Milton is no longer associated to the company, despite his ownership stake. They also stressed that current employees and the company are not facing criminal charges. A Nikola spokesperson stated Thursday that there was no further comment from the company on Milton.