Remember back in July 2018 when Elon Musk tried to deploy an elaborate submarine to save a team of Thai kids trapped in a cave, and when a diver mocked his idea, Musk fired off a rage tweet calling him a “pedo”?
Well, that diver sued him for defamation last September, and Musk’s defense is as outlandish as the situation he got himself into. New court filings argue that when Musk called the British expat Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy,” he did not mean to accuse him of pedophilia — even though Musk later hired a private investigator to determine whether Unsworth was, in fact, a pedo.
Now that it’s clear that Unsworth is not a pedo, Musk argued that his signature slam was “a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up. It is synonymous with ‘creepy old man’ and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanor, not accuse a person of acts of pedophilia.”
Not that South Africans are rushing to defend him. Local reporting did not clarify how the phrase was used there, but rather derided him for finding a way to blame the country.
Meanwhile, the Tesla CEO is playing both sides. He also testified that Unsworth, who famously told Musk to put his showboat submarine “where it hurts,” was “sus,” and potentially “another Jeffrey Epstein.” And the investigator he hired for $50,000 backed him up with a dossier, based on dubious and uncited evidence, that alleged Unsworth had married a Thai woman when she was 12.
When BuzzFeed News asked about it, Musk reiterated his original attack in an email that referred to Unsworth as a “child rapist.”
But when BuzzFeed spoke to Unsworth’s longtime girlfriend, she said she’s 40 and has been with Unsworth for seven years — making her a tad older than 12 when they got together.
“I am told this information. I don’t know if it is true,” Musk said in his deposition. “But what if we have another Jeffrey Epstein on our hands? And what if he uses whatever celebrity he gains from the cave rescue to shield his bad deed? That would be terrible.”
Indeed it would be, but there’s no evidence at all that it was the case. Meaning, it might be about as useful a defense as that submarine — which wasn’t ultimately used in the rescue effort. Divers got the boys out. (Unsworth was instrumental, according to CNN.)
Still, Musk’s attorneys are asking that the defamation case against him be thrown out on the grounds that, though the stuff his private investigator dug up was obviously false, Musk didn’t know that it was, and therefore was on solid ground to call some diver a pedo — even if he made the claim before paying a guy $50,000 to back up his defense.
Cover: SpaceX chief Elon Musk answers questions after the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition at the SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles on July 21, 2019. (Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.