The Department of Justice has accused Faraday Future founder Jia Yueting of “engaging in dishonest behavior” during his Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, and it has filed a motion to appoint a new trustee to take control of the Chinese billionaire’s estate.
The new motion, if approved, could dramatically change the course of Jia’s bankruptcy case, which involves billions of dollars of debt owed to more than 100 creditors in China, and which has been hotly contested in the two months since he filed. While Jia claims his bankruptcy does not directly involve Faraday Future, he has claimed that a speedy outcome is necessary in order for the EV startup to raise the $850 million it so desperately needs to finally put its first vehicle into production late next year.
One of Jia’s lawyers, Jeffrey Dulberg, a partner at the firm Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones LLP, tells The Verge he believes the motion is “based on factual inaccuracies and misapplications of law to fact” and says it is “without merit.”
A lawyer for one of Jia’s creditors, who was granted anonymity so they could speak freely about the case, called the filing a “nuclear bomb” and a “scathing attack.” This lawyer also said they were shocked the US Trustee is taking such drastic action in what they consider to be relatively early stages. “For them to get involved this early is almost unheard of, [but] the US trustee carries a lot of weight with the judge.”
Jia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy back in October in an attempt to settle nearly $4 billion in both personal debt and money owed by his failed Chinese tech conglomerate, LeEco. He laid out a plan that would offer each of those creditors different-sized slices of his stake in his troubled EV startup, Faraday Future. Jia’s pitch, loosely, is that he doesn’t have enough liquid assets to pay them back, especially since so much of his wealth is tied up in stock and bank accounts in China that were frozen by the Chinese government. (Jia self-exiled himself to the US in 2017 after being named to a debtor blacklist in his home country.) The rest of his wealth is tied up in Faraday Future, so he wants to transfer pieces of that stake to his creditors in an attempt to make them whole in the event of a Faraday Future IPO or sale.
But in the two months that have passed, none of the creditors have come out in support of this plan. Instead, there’s been a ceaseless and increasingly vitriolic flurry of motions and objections from both Jia and many of his largest creditors, and little progress has been made. One of the first scheduled hearings, for example, hasn’t taken place and has been delayed until at least early January 2020.
The Department of Justice’s Office of the US Trustee, which serves as a watchdog over the bankruptcy process, blames Jia for this and is trying to step in and install order. US Trustee representative Andrew Vara argues in the new motion that Jia has “failed to uphold his fiduciary duty to the estate by engaging in dishonest behavior” and says Jia “has demonstrated an inability to manage his estate.” Vara claims Jia has “taken measures to frustrate [his] creditors,” has “obscure[d] his financial affairs,” and accuses him of failing “to make any significant progress in his Chapter 11 case to date.” All of this behavior increases the risk that the creditors will never get paid back, Vara says.
“Based on [Jia’s] untrustworthiness, mismanagement of his financial affairs, and breach of his fiduciary responsibilities, the Court should direct the appointment of an independent disinterested person to serve as chapter 11 trustee,” Vara writes.
Among the evidence Vara submits to support these claims is that Jia paid some of his lawyers ahead of his October bankruptcy filing (and some of his expenses) using a $2.7 million loan from one of Faraday Future’s holding companies. In exchange for the loan, Jia gave that holding company a “secured interest” in all of his assets, according to a filing with the California Secretary of State. But as Vara points out, Jia already lost a case against one of his creditors, and in September, the judge in that case ordered a freeze on his assets. Vara also says Jia violated his “fiduciary duty” by obtaining the loan without court approval, something he’s required to do once the bankruptcy process has been kicked off. For all these reasons, Vara calls the loan a “fraudulent” transaction.
Vara also opposes Jia’s motion to appoint a “chief restructuring officer,” in part because of a clause in the proposal that would task that person with “irretrievably delete[ing]” any information related to the billionaire at his request. Vara says this is “entirely contrary to the Debtor’s fiduciary duty of maintaining open and honest disclosure with the Court and creditors in this case.” The office of the US Trustee declined further comment on its motion.
Vara’s not the only one to strongly push back on Jia’s bankruptcy plan. Shanghai Lan Cai — the creditor that got the freeze placed on Jia’s assets — has said Jia filed for bankruptcy in “bad faith” and accused him of trying to mislead his Chinese creditors. At least five creditors have joined Shanghai Lan Cai’s motion to dismiss the case.
A much larger group of creditors, represented by the “unsecured creditor committee,” issued an even more blistering response. They claimed Jia has stymied their investigation into his finances by refusing to produce documents. The committee also said Jia is “asking the creditor body to take a giant leap of faith and pin all of its hopes for recovery on the success of Faraday, a company that may have little or no present value.”
In a letter to his creditors published last month, Jia said he felt “deeply sorry and ashamed” for LeEco’s failure and his accumulation of nearly $4 billion in debt. He said that he will have “nothing left” after bankruptcy, but he added that this was the “only and the best solution for all parties.”
“The hard way is my way,” he wrote.