Vernon Unsworth, a 63-year-old British cave diver who lives in Thailand, filed a suit with the Central District Court of California on Monday seeking $75,000 in damages from Musk, alleging he made "unlawful, unsupportable and reprehensible accusations" against Unsworth.
"From July 15, 2018, to August 30, 2018, Musk periodically utilized his Twitter account and emails to the media to publish to the world false and defamatory accusations against Mr. Unsworth, including accusations of pedophilia," the suit says.
"Mr. Unsworth brings this action to hold Musk legally accountable for his wrongdoing and to vindicate his reputation."
Unsworth, a veteran cave diver who lives in Chiang Rai, Thailand, had spent years exploring the Tham Luang caves, where the 12 boys and their soccer coach became trapped after rainwater filled their exit in late June. He was the first foreigner on the scene and played a key role in getting all 13 people out of the cave safely.
The beef between him and Musk began, however, when Musk offered a "kid-sized" mini-submarine created by his rocket company, SpaceX, as well as his own commentary, to help the effort. However, the rescue team rejected his proposal, and Unsworth was subsequently quoted by CNN as having said Musk's proposal was "just a PR stunt" that "had absolutely no chance of working."
An angry Musk threatened in a now-deleted Tweet on July 15 to publish footage showing the sub's potential to help, ostensibly as an attempt to embarrass the rescue crew, adding at the end: "Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it." "Pedo" is a British slang term for a pedophile.
Subsequent tweets, also deleted, insinuated that the reason Unsworth lived in Thailand at all was suspicious, implying he was there because he was a pedophile.
By July 17, Unsworth had told Reuters he was considering legal action against Musk, after which Musk apologized, and nothing was spoken of the matter for a month. However, in early August, Unsworth quietly announced his intention to press charges against Musk — an intention Musk ignored when weeks later, a Twitterer provoked him into gloating about nothing being done, at which point Unsworth's lawyer revealed the impending suit.
Here's the full letter threatening libel suit against @elonmusk from attorney for Thai-rescue volunteer Vernon Unsworth, whom Elon baselessly called a "pedo guy" (as first noted by @RMac18) pic.twitter.com/0kWxyhNKkF— Drew Harwell (@drewharwell) August 29, 2018
"You published through three different tweets to your twenty-two million followers that Mr. Unsworth engages in the sexual exploitation of Thai children, and you did so at a time when he was working to save the lives of twelve Thai children," reads the letter of intent sent by Unsworth's lawyer to Musk, dated August 6. "You did so without any basis. According to a subsequent Twitter post, you did so out of anger."
Accordingly, Unsworth's suit points out, "As one of the highest-profile and wealthiest individuals in the world, Musk knew that this accusations against Mr. Unsworth would be conveyed to a worldwide audience and would result in the accusations receiving massive publicity."
Unworth will pursue a separate legal action in the High Court of London for "reputational damage" he suffered in England and Wales, CNet noted.
Unsworth is also seeking legal action against the SpaceX and Tesla CEO in Thailand for charges that could land the industrialist in jail, Sputnik reported. Unsworth announced the move after BuzzFeed published an email last week in which Musk called Unsworth "a single white guy from England who's been travelling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years," alleging that he had moved to Chiang Rai "for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time," adding that the city was "renowned for child sex-trafficking."
Unsworth's girlfriend, Woranan Ratrawiphukkun, 40, has since clarified that the two met when she was 32 years old, dismissing the claims about Unsworth out of hand.
In an email sent to the Guardian, Unsworth's lawyer said: "Elon Musk's campaign of publishing vile and false accusations against Mr. Unsworth is inexcusable. Musk hopes to be sued, and he deserves to be sued. He will be."