Tesla CEO Elon Musk is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit against him from the British dive hero that he repeatedly labelled a paedophile to his more than 22 million Twitter followers in a series of outrageous tweets.
The 47-year-old billionaire said his July 15 “pedo” comments about Vernon Unsworth, who had repeatedly risked his life to save the stranded Thai footballers in the Chiang Rai caves, were “schoolyard spat on social media” that people did not take seriously.
The thin-skinned Musk had been “shocked by Unsworth’s indefensible attacks”, his lawyers said.
The football team was miraculously freed from the flooded caves on July 10 after an 18-day ordeal.
The “public knew from the outset that Musk’s insults were not intended to be statements of fact”, the legal submission said.
Unsworth, 63 at the time, dismissed the specially designed submarine by Musk’s SpaceX rocket company when interviewed after spending numerous hours trying to rescue the 12 boys and their coach trapped in a flooded cave.
He said the rigid submarine, which was impractical for the tiny, winding passages, was “a PR stunt” and suggested the PayPal founder should “stick his submarine somewhere where it hurts”. “It just had absolutely no chance of working.”
The dive hero said in September that he was suing Musk for at least US$57,000 in compensatory damages plus unspecified punitive damages.
Musk, who might believe his wealth allows him to avoid obeying the law, said his tweets were “spoken in anger” and the submarine was built out of kindness. But he later replied to BuzzFeed by email on August 30, saying the site should investigate Unsworth and “stop defending child rapists”.
The childish tycoon wrote: “He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been travelling or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years.
“I f*cking hope he sues me,” Musk wrote.
He claimed Unsworth moved to Thailand “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time”.
The lawsuit said Unsworth was not a paedophile, had never engaged in an act of paedophilia, was not a child rapist and had never married a minor.
Unsworth lives with a 40-year-old Thai woman and moved to Thailand in 2011 to explore and map caves, the lawsuit said.
Musk’s lawyers claimed the email to BuzzFeed was supposed to be off the record, but the website said it had made no such agreement.
Elon Musk’s ill-fated submarine. Picture credit: YouTube