Elon Musk empire power struggle ended on news one top exec was being investigated by the FBI: report
Elon Musk (Photo by Jim Watson for AFP)

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, a power struggle between top advisers to billionaire Elon Musk came to an abrupt end when one senior adviser revealed to the industrialist that his adversary was being investigated by the FBI.

As the Journal noted, Musk has a variety of endeavors going which has led him to delegate responsibility for billions of dollars to a select group of confidants, and that, in turn, created tension as multiple parties jockeyed around each other.

In one such case, Musk's wealth manager and top adviser Jared Birchal expressed distrust of Russian-born ex-professional gambler Igor Kurganov who inserted himself into Musk's inner circle to the point where the businessman wanted him to oversee his charitable giving despite having no experience in financial management.

As the Journal's Rob Copeland wrote, upon hearing the news Birchal told Musk, "Elon. You can’t.”

"The clash between the two men, and their dueling efforts to gain the upper hand with Mr. Musk, provides a peek into the often tumultuous private workings of Mr. Musk’s inner circle," Copeland wrote. "Mr. Birchall is an Eagle Scout and practicing Mormon who doesn’t smoke or drink and grew up traveling California as part of a song-and-dance troupe called “The Birchall Family Singers.” He declined to be interviewed through a representative of Mr. Musk’s foundation. Mr. Kurganov is a high-roller with a reported more than $18 million in poker winnings, with long hair and beard and a peaceful demeanor. He has said in a podcast interview that he dropped out of college because he was smoking too much marijuana. He didn’t respond to requests for comment."

According to the report, Musk settled the dispute between the two, allowing Kurganov to oversee a fraction of his wealth -- $5.7 billion in Tesla shares earmarked for charity -- but that didn't make the friction disappear.

As the report notes, the two men butted heads, with Copeland reporting, "To Mr. Birchall, that was an untenable situation. He was legally head of the foundation, and as he saw it, Mr. Kurganov was a newcomer who suddenly had immense influence on what to do with Mr. Musk’s money, he told people."

Relief came for Birchall on news that the FBI was intrigued by Kurganov, although not because he was under a criminal investigation.

"Mr. Birchall also learned that a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent had begun making preliminary inquiries into Mr. Kurganov as part of his job to watch for foreign interference in U.S. companies, people familiar with the matter say. The FBI agent was concerned that a newcomer had so quickly been welcomed into Mr. Musk’s inner circle, the people say. Mr. Kurganov hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing," the Journal report states.

"Mr. Birchall, alarmed that Mr. Musk could be drawn into a federal investigation, this spring again pressed his internal case against Mr. Kurganov, people familiar with the matter say. It was inappropriate, in Mr. Birchall’s view, for Mr. Kurganov to have a central role in the $5.7 billion in shares that Mr. Musk had promised to donate."

The break-up came as Musk began his foray into getting into the social media business at which point Birchall pressed his case to oust the ex-gambler once again.

"Mr. Birchall in May asked Mr. Musk to remove Mr. Kurganov from his post at the foundation. Mr. Musk agreed to let Mr. Kurganov go, the representative of the foundation says, " Copeland wrote before adding, "None of Mr. Musk’s money was ultimately spent on projects related to effective altruism, the representative says, and Mr. Kurganov’s Musk Foundation email was switched off roughly six weeks ago."

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