The image arrived in Susan Swenson's inbox on a Wednesday evening. Her corporate headshot had been crudely crossed out in digital red ink, and the word "Kill" was written in the bottom left corner. In the hours that followed, some of her colleagues received similar threats, including messages that referenced the recent assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.
The menacing emails marked the apex of a months-long fight for control over Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc., a Los Angeles, California-based publicly traded electric vehicle startup that once billed itself as the next Tesla. In September, after the death threats, persistent pressure from Faraday's largest shareholders, and a surprising cameo from property giant China Evergrande Group, Swenson, the executive chair, and three others agreed to leave Faraday's board of directors in a sweeping restructuring.
While it's not known who sent the death threats -- the company has referred them to the FBI -- some leaders inside Faraday believe they were inspired by the boardroom fight recently waged by its largest shareholders, including a group that is partially managed by the startup's founder, exiled Chinese tycoon Jia Yueting. (The group, FF Global Partners, denies any involvement in the threats.) Bloomberg News spoke to three people familiar with the situation who were granted anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, and reviewed dozens of public regulatory and court filings for this story. Faraday Future did not respond to a list of questions.
Seven months ago, Faraday's board sidelined Jia, who goes by YT, following an internal probe that examined his influence over day-to-day operations, as well as a series of loans employees made to the startup over the years. Now, he stands to benefit greatly from the impending board shakeup, which will be completed when Faraday holds its delayed annual meeting. He has been named an adviser to the board, and FF Global will have input on all six new members. As Faraday put it in a recent SEC filing, "YT Jia and FF Global have strengthened their already significant influence over the Company."
But as YT reclaims power, it is over a company that's under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in relation to the findings of the internal probe -- information the Department of Justice has inquired about, too, according to Faraday. The startup also needs money, fast. After burning through more than $3 billion since it launched eight years ago, Faraday reported just $27 million in cash on Oct. 25th, and says it needs millions more if it hopes to finally ship its elusive crossover.