Elon Musk faces defamation trial over spat with British diver

Cornelia Mascio
Dicembre 3, 2019

Musk is expected on Tuesday to go on trial for allegedly defaming Vernon Unsworth, a British cave explorer who gained worldwide renown for playing a lead role in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in July 2018.

The Tesla CEO will be called to testify early in the case in Los Angeles federal court to explain what he meant when he called Vernon Unsworth - who helped rescue youth soccer players trapped underwater in a Thailand cave - "pedo guy" in a Twitter spat more than a year ago.

Two days later, Musk lashed out at Unsworth in a series of tweets, including one which called him a "pedo guy". The tweet, widely interpreted as a reference to a pedophile, was removed by Musk, who disputed that's what he meant. "It is synonymous with "creepy old man" and is used to insult a person's appearance and demeanour, not accuse a person of paedophilia".

Unsworth's lawyers have laughed off that explanation and said his claim was undercut by a subsequent tweet when he said, "Bet ya a signed dollar it's true", in response to a question about whether he had accused Unsworth of being a pedophile.

The case against Musk got a boost when Wilson last month said Unsworth's sudden fame from the rescue did not make him a "public figure", meaning he did not need to show that Musk acted with "actual malice" when posting his tweets.

Musk and Tesla reached a $40-million U.S. settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission past year on allegations he misled investors with a tweet declaring he had secured financing to buy out the electric auto maker.

Mr Unsworth played a lead role in the rescue of 12 boys and their football coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in July 2018.

Mr Musk and engineers from his SpaceX rocket company custom built a mini-submarine to help with the rescue. The device was heavily publicized, but never used.

While the case does not involve Tesla, Mr Musk's Twitter habits have always been under a microscope, with investors and regulators expressing concerns about the accuracy of his tweets.

Unsworth told CNN on July 13, 2018, three days after the rescue was completed, that the offer was a "PR stunt" and that Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts".

Despite removing the tweets, he later suggested in emails to the news website BuzzFeed that Mr Unsworth was a "child rapist" and had moved to northern Thailand to take "a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time". He provided no evidence.

Unsworth is suing Musk for accusing him of being a paedophile and is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

Wilson also refused to reverse a ruling that bars plaintiff's lawyers from introducing Musk's financial statements, after defense attorneys acknowledged in court that their client has publicly put his net worth at $20 billion.

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