ELON Musk is going on trial today in a defamation case pitting the billionaire against a British diver he allegedly branded a paedophile.
The Tesla boss will be called to testify early in the case in the 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 in the summer of 2018 – ‘pedo guy’ in a Twitter spat more than a year ago.
Musk later apologised for lashing out at Mr Unsworth on Twitter after the diver belittled Musk’s efforts to build a tiny submarine to save the trapped boys as a ‘PR stunt’. The tweet, widely interpreted as a reference to a paedophile, was removed by Musk, who disputed that’s what he meant.
‘“Pedo guy” was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,’ Musk said in a court declaration. ‘It is synonymous with “creepy old man” and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanour.’
Mr 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 Mr Unsworth of being a paedophile.
The lawyers also said he hired private investigators to dig up evidence that Mr Unsworth was a child molester, which they never found, according to Mr Unsworth’s lawyers.
Mr Unsworth is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress.
The defence has resisted efforts to turn over financial records to show Musk’s wealth but has stipulated his net worth exceeds $20bn (circa £10.6bn).
The lawsuit is not the first time Musk’s tweets have landed him in hot water.
He and Tesla reached a $40m settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year on allegations he misled investors with a tweet declaring he had secured financing to buy out the electric car maker. He agreed in the settlement to have future tweets about the company screened.
Musk was forced back into court on accusations he violated that agreement by tweeting a misleading figure about how many cars Tesla would manufacture this year.
The SEC sought to hold him in contempt of court, which led to a new agreement imposing tighter controls on Musk’s tweets about the company.