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Faraday Future employees sue investor over ‘conspiracy’ to destroy the EV startup

Faraday Future employees sue investor over ‘conspiracy’ to destroy the EV startup


More details emerge on the trans-Pacific power struggle

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The battle between ailing electric car startup Faraday Future and its main investor, Chinese real estate giant Evergrande, escalated once again on Wednesday. Employees of the startup filed suit against Evergrande in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming the Chinese conglomerate committed “breaches” of its fiduciary duties as well as “other illegal conduct.” The plaintiffs also say Evergrande “plotted” from the beginning to send Faraday Future “off a financial cliff” in order to make off with the intellectual property associated with the startup’s forthcoming luxury electric vehicle, the FF91.

“If [Evergrande’s] conspiracy is allowed to come to fruition,” Faraday Future employees — many of whom have a stake in the company — will suffer, lawyers for the plaintiffs write. “Plaintiffs stand to lose everything. Not only will their jobs and equity vanish, but the value of years of work will be destroyed.”

Filed by Allen Lu, Faraday Future’s president of go-to-market strategy; Matthias Aydt, the vice president of vehicle engineering; and Connie Zhao, senior director of vehicle software, the lawsuit names Evergrande, the offshore intermediary used for the investment, and the Chinese company’s two members on the board of directors that was established after the deal.

“We filed the lawsuit today on behalf of Faraday employees to hold Evergrande responsible for its oppressive and heavy-handed conduct toward our clients in their capacity as minority shareholders,” Mike Swartz, a lawyer for McKool Smith Hennigan who is representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Our clients have been treated unfairly and look forward to having their day in court.” Lawyers for Evergrande could not be reached.

The new lawsuit hews closely to one filed by Faraday Future’s parent company against Evergrande just last week, which argued that the Chinese conglomerate is “deliberately starving” the startup into bankruptcy.

“The value of years of work will be destroyed.”

But while the two strike a similar tone, that first lawsuit was more specifically focused on forcing Evergrande to acknowledge a recent decision that allows Faraday Future to seek up to $500 million in new funding from other sources. The one filed on Wednesday is more about restitution. The employees, who are seeking class action certification, are asking the court for “immediate redress for [Evergrande’s] breaches of their fiduciary duties and other illegal conduct, and relief for the damage” the conglomerate has done to equity shareholders in Faraday Future, according to the complaint.

Taken together, the two lawsuits paint a fuller picture of how the Evergrande deal came together, as well as how it started to fall apart.

Backed against a different financial cliff at the end of 2017, Faraday Future entered into a deal with Evergrande that would ultimately be worth $2 billion. Evergrande pledged $800 million to the startup in early 2018 and agreed to release $600 million more each year in 2019 and 2020. In exchange, the Chinese conglomerate got a 45 percent stake in the American EV startup.

After spending the first installment by July, Faraday Future said it needed $663 million to enter production by December

Faraday Future spent through nearly all of that money by July 2018, though, despite the fact that Evergrande had two financial controllers installed at Faraday Future to monitor its spending, according to the new lawsuits. About $200 million of it was quickly sent back to China to help finance the company’s efforts to start up localized production in the country. Around $130 million was earmarked for paying back money owed to suppliers. The rest went to prepping a facility in Hanford, California, for production of the FF91, which was originally scheduled for the end of 2018, as well as to finance the pricey day-to-day operations. (The company’s payroll, for example, cost $15.8 million per month before recent layoffs.)

With that money spent, Faraday Future estimated in July that it still needed $663 million in order to get the FF91 into production by the December 2018 deadline, according to documents filed in last week’s lawsuit. So Faraday Future’s CEO and founder Jia Yueting asked Evergrande for an advance on the $1.2 billion that remained in the deal, and the Chinese conglomerate agreed.

Evergrande committed to sending Faraday Future $300 million in July, $200 million in October, and another $200 million in January 2019. In return, it asked Jia to abandon his director positions at all Faraday Future-related companies and to relinquish his controlling shares in the holding company at the top of the chain.

Evergrande promised it would pay some of Jia’s debts in China if he stepped away from the company

One reason Jia agreed, according to the new lawsuit filed onWednesday, is that Evergrande promised to pay back all of the debts owed by LeSee, the electric car company that the Faraday Future CEO had started in China.

Despite Jia’s apparent capitulations, Evergrande failed to deliver that first $300 million payment. The Chinese conglomerate argued Jia did not submit enough “satisfactory” evidence that proved he had distanced himself from Faraday Future, and claimed he was still acting as a “shadow director,” according to last week’s lawsuit. It also cited the fact that Jia is on a debtor blacklist in China as a reason for hesitating on the payment. (Jia was placed on the blacklist shortly after the deal was struck last December.)

In turn, Evergrande used this moment to seize control of Faraday Future’s operations in China, according to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

The two sides haggled over the $300 million payment across the following months, according to the new suit, but Evergrande didn’t let up. The plaintiffs argue Evergrande repeatedly acted in “bad faith,” including purposely withholding payments to “key suppliers” — something that became the first sign of new financial trouble at Faraday Future earlier this fall.

It was at this point in late September — with just $18 million left in the bank and $59 million still owed to suppliers — that Faraday Future decided to file for arbitration in Hong Kong to resolve the dispute with Evergrande. While the main case is still ongoing, Faraday Future was allowed by the arbitrator to seek outside funding of up to $500 million, and Evergrande was ordered to pay some of the startup’s legal fees. Faraday Future is also now asking the arbitrator to nullify a number of liens Evergrande has against the EV startup’s assets, including a vice grip on its intellectual property.

While the arbitration proceedings played out, though, the EV startup took drastic measures. What started as salary cuts and a few hundred layoffs in late October quickly escalated into furloughs for hundreds more employees.

A number of the company’s key executives — including co-founder Nick Sampson as well as Dag Reckhorn, who was the last remaining “founding executive” — resigned. Barring any new funding, Faraday Future has enough cash to last until mid-December, The Verge recently learned.

A number of key people have left the company

In an all-hands meeting held Monday, Jia told the some 600 employees who have stuck with the company (at a reduced salary) through the furlough that Faraday Future is “receiving interest from investors from around the world,” according to a company statement. He also claimed the company plans to IPO in 2020, and said he’s “willing to take out my personal equity as a pledge and guarantee for all suppliers. We will not let them have any payment risks.”

Over the weekend, an EV blockchain company called EVAIO claimed it had “contacted Faraday Future to invest $900 million” through a “security token offering.” John Schilling, spokesperson for Faraday Future, said in an email that the company is “speaking with a number of potential investors but nothing (no deal) has been made yet with EVAIO. We have no further comment on any kind of arrangement with them.”

Correction: This article previously stated Faraday Future’s monthly payroll before the layoffs and salary cuts was around $8 million. That figure, pulled from court records, was for each two week pay period. The monthly payroll was $15.8 million.