Nikola’s former chairman did not leave due to fraud accusations, but to personal allegations.
While many saw Trevor Milton's resignation as a sign that the company would fail, that is not what analysts interviewed by Automotive News believe. They think GM will move forward with the deal, which is set to close on September 30. According to these analysts, that will be the case because the risk is low, and potential rewards are high.
GM has put no money on the deal. It just committed to helping develop and build the Nikola Badger, as well as to supply Ultium batteries and Hydrotec fuel cells to its vehicles. It will even receive shares, a $700-million payment, and carbon credits for it. On the other hand, if Nikola manages to use PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) it is working on to create a clean hydrogen infrastructure, GM will have part of the company that made such a resource available.
It is as if Tesla did not build the Supercharger network by itself, but invested in a company that decided to do so. The role supercharging plays in the purchase of any Tesla vehicle shows how important it is to have the proper infrastructure to support new technologies.
If GM decides to build its own vehicles with Hydrotec fuel cells, these cars will have somewhere to fill up their hydrogen tanks. If it doesn't, but others do, GM will have a piece of the company that promises to create that clean hydrogen refueling network.
Stephanie Brinley, the principal auto analyst at IHS Markit, puts it this way: GM did not seem to invest in Nikola for the technologies it may offer in the future. It did that because of "what those trucks might use in the future." She apparently meant the Ultium cells and Hydrotec fuel cells, but we do not doubt she has considered the hydrogen Nikola committed to supplying.
Something else the article implies is why Trevor Milton decided to resign. It was not solely related to the accusations of fraud but mostly to personal allegations that have emerged after Hindenburg Research made its first report accusing the company of trying to cheat security laws. Both the US SEC and the Department of Justice are investigating Nikola.
David Bateman is accusing Milton of having sexually assaulted women. Recently, he posted a CNBC article that brings new accusations against the former Nikola chairman.
The "Jonny" Bateman refers to is Jonathan Howard Robb. He was arrested by the Utah Attorney General's Office on April 16, 2020, following an investigation that he was trying to extort a "wealthy Utah businessman:" Trevor Milton.
According to the Attorney General's Office, Robb "contacted the victim, identified as T.M. in charging documents, in April claiming to be a former friend, and threatened to post unflattering information about T.M. on social media unless he was given $500,000. Robb proceeded to post some of the information on his Instagram page."
After being arrested at the pickup spot and released, Robb was found dead "in one of his favorite places near the mountains," as his obituary reads. It also says he "passed away the morning of May 7th, 2020," but it does not clarify the circumstances. The obituary suggests it was a suicide case in which "he ended his battle with manic depression and bipolar disorder."
We tried to find more information about any investigation of his death. Is there any indication that his suicide was something else? How did Robb allegedly kill himself? Did the police find anything unusual at the crime scene? Unfortunately, we have no answers to these questions.
The issue is that this murder insinuation adds up to the sexual assault accusations Trevor Milton has to defend from. There is a Reddit thread that asks: "Did Trevor Milton really kill Jonathan Howard Robb??"
In the comments at the second Hindenburg Research report about Nikola, someone that identifies solely as D.C. asks: "You should've added a question about Jonathan Howard Robb. What did he threaten to reveal about Trevor which led to his death mere weeks later?"
Although nobody directly accused Milton of killing Robb – probably afraid of lawsuits – there are multiple insinuations about that circulating. These and the sexual assault accusations are too severe for anyone to keep running a business. As Nikola CFO Kim Brady said, "it became increasingly clear that the attention was being focused on Trevor rather than on the company as well as the company's mission."
On top of that, Milton got married on 21 or 22 October 2017. So, there are two vital things at stake for him: the company he created and his marriage. His divorce from Nikola was necessary to preserve it from everything Milton will have to endure from now on. Even if he proves to be innocent, it will be hard for him to repair the damages.