Elon Musk is going on trial on Tuesday for his troublesome tweets in a defamation case pitting the billionaire against a British diver he allegedly branded a paedophiles.
The Tesla CEO will be called to testify early in the case in Los Angeles federal court to explain what he meant when he called Vernon Unsworth, who helped rescue youth soccer players trapped underwater in a Thailand cave, “pedo guy” in a Twitter spat more than year ago.
Musk later apologized for lashing out at Unsworth on Twitter after the diver belittled Musks efforts to build a tiny submarine to save the trapped boys as a PR stunt. The tweet, which was widely interpreted as a reference to a paedophiles, was removed by Musk, who disputed that is what he meant.
“Pedo guy was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,” Musk said in a court declaration. “It is synonymous with creepy old man and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanor”.
Unsworth’s lawyers have laughed off that explanation and said his claim was undercut by a subsequent tweet when he said, “Bet ya a signed dollar its true” in response to a question about whether he had accused Unsworth of being a paedophile.
The lawyers also said he hired private investigators to dig up evidence Unsworth was a child molester, which they never found, according to Unsworth’s lawyers.
The lawsuit is not the first time Musk’s tweets have landed him in hot water.
Musk and Tesla reached a $40 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last year on allegations he misled investors with a tweet declaring he had secured financing to buy out the electric car maker.
He agreed in the settlement to have future tweets about the company screened.