The US securities regulator is investigating Tesla over a whistleblower complaint that the company failed to properly notify clients of fire risks associated with defective home solar panels.
Reuters quoted a letter on Monday from the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which says the investigation is “active and ongoing,” after a former Tesla field quality manager turned whistleblower filed a complaint with the regulator about the faulty systems in 2019.
Steven Henkes was fired from Elon Musk’s company in August 2020 and then sued Tesla, claiming he lost his job because he had raised safety concerns.
Henkes claims Tesla and SolarCity, the company it acquired in 2016, failed to disclose their “liability and exposure to property damage, risk of injury of users, fire etc to shareholders” prior to and after the acquisition.
In his complaint to the SEC, Henkes said he had told Tesla management that the fire-prone solar systems had to be shut down, and advised that the company should report to safety regulators and notify consumers. Henkes claims that his calls were ignored, so he went on to file the complaint with the regulator.
“The top lawyer cautioned any communication of this issue to the public as a detriment to the Tesla reputation. For me this is criminal.”
Tesla and the SEC have not provided any comments on the issue, according to Reuters.
Tesla has faced litigation and concerns over solar system issues for several years. Walmart sued Tesla in 2019 over a link between its roof solar systems and fires in seven stores. At the time, Tesla denied the allegations and the matter was settled out of court.
Documents provided to Reuters by legal transparency group PlainSite also suggest that several residential customers have sued Tesla and its parts supplier over fires related to their solar systems.
Tesla, the world’s biggest electric car maker, is already facing a federal safety investigation into accidents involving its driver assistant systems.
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