Elon Musk tells court 'pedo guy' just means 'creepy old guy' in defamation case

4 December 2019, 05:07

Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth disagreed over a cave rescue
Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth disagreed over a cave rescue. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Tech billionaire Elon Musk did not mean to accuse a British rescue diver of being a paedophile when he called him "pedo guy" but claims he instead meant he was a "creepy old man," a court has heard.

Musk took the stand in a court in Los Angeles on Tuesday defending himself against claims of defamation following a spat which occurred on social media and in the press.

Vernon Unsworth is suing the co-founder of Tesla for defamation after the billionaire tweeted that he was a "pedo" following the 2018 Thai cave rescue.

The row started after Mr Unsworth, who helped with the perilous underwater mission, dismissed Mr Musk's offer of aid as a publicity stunt.

Mr Musk later referred to him as a "child rapist" in an email to a reporter.

A defamation trial began in Los Angeles on Tuesday, bringing Mr Musk and Mr Unsworth face-to-face inside a federal court.

Mr Musk repeated the defence he first used in court papers lodged in September, insisting the phrase "pedo guy" was commonly used in his native South Africa and meant "creepy old guy", rather than being an allegation of paedophilia.

Asked by Lin Wood, representing Mr Unsworth if, following his tweet, there were news articles online stating he had accused Mr Unsworth of paedophilia, he replied: "I think there was some articles to that effect, but there are articles that accuse me of all sorts of things that aren't true."

Again characterising "pedo guy" as an insult rather than an accusation, Mr Musk cited Mr Unsworth's response to his offer of help in the cave rescue, where he said "he can stick his submarine where it hurts".

Mr Musk said this too was clearly an insult, rather than a threat to "physically sodomise me with a submarine".

The court was then shown Mr Musk's tweeted apology to the British diver. The billionaire, dressed in a dark suit, again offered an apology.

Mr Unsworth after being awarded an MBE by the Queen
Mr Unsworth after being awarded an MBE by the Queen. Picture: PA

Mr Wood then moved on to Mr Musk's defence, first offered in September, arguing the phrase "pedo guy" was common in South Africa and widely believed to mean "creepy old man".

Mr Wood asked why Mr Musk did not offer this defence earlier.

"I think it would have been worse. It's like if I called someone a mothereffer," Mr Musk said, adding it would seem "sarcastic" to say "I did not mean they committed incest".

Pressed further why he did not make it clear he was not accusing Mr Unsworth of paedophilia, Mr Musk added: "I think that would be worse. It would seem disingenuous as an apology.

"Calling someone a 'pedo guy' just means creepy."

An internet search or a survey of people on the street would prove his point, Mr Musk added.

Mr Musk was then asked about his statement, "I f***ing hope he sues me".

To laughter inside the courtroom, Mr Musk replied: "Be careful what you wish for."

Under cross-examination from his solicitor, Alex Spiro, Mr Musk was asked why he got involved in the rescue. Mr Musk said it first appeared authorities had the situation under control before news of an incoming monsoon made him fearful for the trapped children's safety.

He said: "When one of the Thai navy seals died that seemed, 'Wow, this is pretty hardcore'."

Members of the Royal Thai Navy along with volunteers from England, the United States, Australia, and China, are pictured as they prepare to rescue 12 schoolboys, members of a local soccer team, and their coach, from the Tham Luang Caves.
Members of the Royal Thai Navy along with volunteers from England, the United States, Australia, and China, are pictured as they prepare to rescue 12 schoolboys, members of a local soccer team, and their coach, from the Tham Luang Caves. Picture: PA

Speaking about the monsoon, Mr Musk explained his fears, adding: "If it arrives before the boys are out they would drown for sure."

The court was then shown a clip of Mr Unsworth's interview with CNN, in which he dismissed the tech billionaire's offer of help as a publicity stunt.

Asked by Mr Spiro if this was a lie from Mr Unsworth, Mr Musk replied: "Yes."

The case continues.

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