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Jim Chanos says there's a culture of lying in Silicon Valley and Theranos was the tip of the iceberg

  • Jim Chanos, who predicted the fall of Enron, is warning investors of overly-optimistic leaders of companies that he says could end up like disgraced start-up Theranos.
  • "There seems to be a culture where you're allowed to say things that in any other time people would say is illegal. You can't lie to investors," Chanos says.
  • He pointed out a pervasive "willingness to sort of say anything by CEOs" and lack of due diligence by boards and investors.
Jim Chanos
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Jim Chanos

In Silicon Valley, hyperbole is becoming a problem, according to prominent short-seller Jim Chanos. The billionaire who predicted the fall of Enron is warning investors to be skeptical of young, optimistic leaders of companies that he says could end up like disgraced start-up Theranos.

"There seems to be a culture where you're allowed to say things that in any other time people would say is illegal. You can't lie to investors" Chanos, the founder of Kynikos Associates, told CNBC's "Closing Bell" Wednesday. "You're going to see an increase of these kinds of revelations as time goes on, particularly out in Silicon Valley."

Chanos, who teaches a course on the history of financial fraud at Yale University, said the field is "fertile" for companies like Theranos to mislead investors, especially in a bull market.

"People's sense of disbelief is reduced and they begin to believe things that are too good to be true, and bad people take advantage of that," said Chanos, whose firm has more than $2 billion in assets under management spread across a short-only fund and a hedge fund.

Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was charged with fraud in March after raising more than $700 million while deceiving investors.The start-up made it appear as if it had successfully developed a commercially-ready portable blood analyzer when the technology could only perform a fraction of the tests advertised.

Holmes settled civil charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission in March. As part of the agreement, she returned millions of shares to the privately held company, paid a $500,000 fine and cannot serve as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years.

Chanos pointed to an overall lack of due diligence by both the boards and investors in believing CEOs like Holmes.

He also said the Silicon Valley "willingness to sort of say anything by CEOs" is an issue at Tesla, a company he is betting against.

Chanos called shares of the electric car maker "overvalued" and said its CEO Elon Musk's predictions are based on "futuristic hype."

"The fact of the matter the company is not profitable from operations," Chanos said. "It's about the future and keeping investors focused on some point in the future when they think the company might be profitable."

He criticized Musk for not seeing "the immediate future" when it came to layoffs. Tesla told employees Tuesday it will cut about 9 percent of its workforce.

A Tesla representative wasn't immediately available.

Chanos said in April on CNBC that he shorted Envision Healthcare in the middle of last year, Mednax in 2018, and that he's been short Dunkin' Brands and Restaurant Brands International for "about a year."

WATCH: Chanos on Tesla & Musk