As Richard Branson’s commercial spaceflight venture, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., fights a lawsuit over its merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), its chief legal officer seems to be leaving for greener pastures.
According to a statement from Volta Inc., Michelle Kley will officially become its legal chief and corporate secretary on July 20. Volta is an electric vehicle infrastructure company based in San Francisco which operates charging stations compatible with all major plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicle types in the United States.
Virgin Galactic is currently defending itself against a lawsuit brought by an investor last year over alleged accounting discrepancies in relation to the company’s 2019 SPAC merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp., which took the space venture public.
Branson, whose current net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $4.1 billion (although some sources put it nearer $5.7 billion), is accused of unloading 16 million Virgin Galactic shares at the peak of their value (which the suit alleges was artificially inflated) and earning for himself a $458 million windfall in the process.
A year ago, the spaceflight company became the first to take passengers to the edge of space on Unity, its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. Branson himself was among the passengers on board, meaning he beat out fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to space by just nine days. When he finally did make it to space, Bezos was aboard the New Shepard reusable launch vehicle built by his own spaceflight company, Blue Origin.
Branson is not the only person associated with Virgin Galactic being sued over the SPAC deal. Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, a businessman known as the “SPAC King” who backed the Social Capital Hedosophia venture and abruptly stepped down in February as Virgin Galactic’s chairman, sold off 10 million in the company’s shares for $315 million in March of last year, almost two months before the company amended its 2020 financial statement.
A lawsuit was filed in March of this year by a Virgin Galactic shareholder claiming that Palihapitiya used his insider position to profit from the company’s artificially inflated stock price.