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Elon Musk v. Vern Unsworth: the defamation trial explained

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk in New York City in April 2019

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Elon Musk

Tesla founder sued for calling Thai cave diver ‘pedo guy’

In Depth
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - 3:17pm

Elon Musk has defended his infamous tweet describing Thai cave diver Vernon Unsworth as “pedo guy”.

The billionaire Tesla and SpaceX founder is “continuing to try to wriggle his way out of a defamation lawsuit” brought by Unsworth, 64, who helped rescue a team of young football players stuck in an underwater cave last year, reports The Guardian.

What happened?

In June 2018, 12 Thai boys and their football coach became trapped in a flooded cave in the Chiang Rai Province, triggering a massive recovery operation during which Musk announced he had built a prototype submarine to help them.

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But Unsworth, a British diver who lives in Thailand, told CNN that Musk’s supposed plan was just a “PR stunt” that had “absolutely no chance of working” and that the tycoon could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

In a since-deleted tweet, Musk responded: “We will make one of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problemo. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”

Widespread outrage over the message led Musk to apologise, saying he had “spoken in anger”. However, he reiterated the insult more than once - tweeting “bet you a signed dollar it’s true”, among other messages - and Unsworth eventually decided to take legal action.

The jury trial is scheduled to begin on 2 December.

What’s new?

A motion filed by Musk in a federal court in California today argues that there is no case to answer because the term “pedo guy” was “a common insult” widely used in South Africa when he was growing up there.

He claims it is “synonymous with ‘creepy old man’” and refers to a person’s appearance and demeanour.

“I did not intend to accuse Mr Unsworth of engaging in acts of paedophilia,” Musk says.

The filing continues: “There is no evidence that Mr Musk intended or believed that his July 15 tweets, that Mr Unsworth was ‘sus’ or ‘pedo guy’, would be interpreted as fact. To the contrary, the evidence is that Mr Musk believed and intended his statements to be read as what they were: bare insults.”

However, the filing suggests Musk continued to use the term after funding a private investigation that allegedly uncovered “disturbing information”.

Musk’s lawyer said: “The investigator reported that Mr Unsworth was a fixture in Pattaya Beach, Thailand – a locale notorious for prostitution and child trafficking, that he had a taste for young Thai girls, that he whoremongered his way through the go-go bars of Thailand, that his only friends were his ‘sexpat’ peers, and that he married his Thai wife when she was a teenager, after starting a relationship when she was a young girl.”

The Guardian notes that Unsworth, who “shares a home in Thailand with his 40-year-old partner”, has denied these allegations.

His lawyer says the filings amount to a “smear tactic” and contain numerous “untruths”, adding that the private investigation was “a ruse set up by Mr Musk to shift public attention away from the heinous claims” he made, reports CNN.

A full response from Unsworth’s team is expected next month.

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