- Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in court filings made public Monday that he did not intend to describe the cave diver Vernon Unsworth as a literal pedophile when he called him “pedo guy” on Twitter last year. Musk is fighting a defamation case in the US brought by Unsworth, who is based in Thailand.
- Musk claimed in the filings that “pedo” was a “common insult” in South Africa, where he grew up, and said it was an insult to someone’s appearance rather than an accusation.
- Filings also revealed that the president of Musk’s family office hired a private investigator to look into Unsworth. Musk told the court that following the investigator’s reports he became worried and thought “what if what we have here is another Jeffrey Epstein.”
- Musk then said he had come to believe the private investigator was “just taking us for a ride.”
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk both said he didn’t mean to refer to a British diver as a literal pedophile in a tweet last year but also testified he had worried the man might be “another Jeffrey Epstein,” according to documents filed with a California court.
In July 2018, Musk publicly offered to aid in the cave rescue of a Thai soccer team consisting of 12 young boys and their assistant coach. Musk said he would assist in the rescue by building a miniature submarine to fetch the boys.
After one of the divers who assisted with the rescue, Vernon Unsworth, appeared on TV to criticise Musk’s idea and describe it as a publicity stunt, Musk retaliated by calling Unsworth a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
In filings from the case made public Monday, Musk said he hadn’t meant “pedo guy” in a literal sense.
“‘Pedo guy’ was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,” he said, according to the filings. “It is synonymous with ‘creepy old man’ and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanour, not accuse a person of acts of pedophilia.”
Musk’s lawyers also previously argued that the “pedo guy” comment could not be considered defamation because it was made on Twitter, where they said discourse was “rough-and-tumble.”
Still, the court filings also revealed that Musk had set a private investigator to the task of investigating Unsworth after tweeting the insult.
In his deposition, Musk said it was this investigator’s findings that led him to double down on the remark and call Unsworth a “child rapist” in an email to the BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac.
“I was like, well, what if this is a real situation? What if what we have here is another Jeffrey Epstein,” Musk said, according to the filings. “We should, you know – I have this – I am told this information. I don’t know if it is true. But what if we have another Jeffrey Epstein on our hands? And what if he uses whatever celebrity he gains from this cave rescue to shield his bad deeds? This would be terrible.”
The lawyer questioning Musk pointed out that Epstein wasn’t in the news when Musk corresponded with the BuzzFeed reporter in September 2018.
Jeffrey Epstein’s case only returned to the spotlight when the Miami Herald published a major investigation in November 2018, two months after Musk had hired someone to look into Unsworth.
Musk responded to this apparent discrepancy with: “Yes. I’m using this as an example of, you know, if this guy is actually doing bad things and could potentially be using the good reputation acquired from the cave rescue to do bad things.”
Musk added that he had never spoken directly with the private investigator.
In a court filing, Jared Birchall, the president of Musk’s family office, said the investigator reported to him that Unsworth had met his wife when she was 11 or 12 and that he had been unpopular in the cave-rescue team because he was “creepy.” In his deposition, Musk said he had come to believe the investigator was “just taking us for a ride.”
Musk’s name has cropped up in reporting about Epstein’s movements among the Silicon Valley elite. Epstein told a New York Times reporter he had advised Musk during Tesla’s tumultuous summer of 2018, which Musk denies. Musk also attended an elite private dinner in 2011 along with other tech moguls including Jeff Bezos at which Epstein was in attendance.