Elon Musk sued by British diver he accused of being a pedophile

A British diver who helped rescue youth soccer players trapped in a Thai cave is suing Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Vernon Unsworth alleges that Musk falsely accused him on Twitter of being a pedophile.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court seeks more than $75,000 in damages and a court order stopping Musk from making further allegations.

Musk in July called Unsworth a "pedo" after Unsworth criticized Musk in a television interview. Musk and SpaceX engineers built a small submarine and shipped it to Thailand to help with the rescue. 

The device wasn't used, and Unsworth called it a "PR stunt." Later Musk accused Unsworth of moving to Thailand to be with a bride who was about 12 years old.

Musk later apologized to Unsworth, saying "his words were spoken in anger." But in August Musk seemed to revive the accusation against the diver, responding someone on Twitter by saying, "You don't think it's strange he hasn't sued me?" 

Some hours later, Unsworth's lawyer replied to the tweet with a picture of a letter sent to Musk informing him he would be sued for libel.  

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk's erratic behavior, including appearing to smoke marijuana on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast earlier this month, has recently aroused concerns among Tesla investors and other backers of the company. One Wall Street analyst called the electric automaker "no longer investable," citing Musk's conduct.

Tesla shares briefly dipped Monday after Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund has invested $1 billion in a rival electric car maker, Lucid Motors. The stock recovered and was up slightly in afternoon trade.  

The news comes after Musk in on August 7 tweeted that he had "funding secured" to take Tesla private, only to abruptly reverse course just a weeks later.

Impact of "Twibels"

Unsworth has a "significant other" in Thailand, a 40-year-old woman with whom he shares a house, according to the lawsuit. He first started going to Thailand in 2011, where he explored and mapped caves, the documents stated.

The lawsuit explains Unsworth's role in the rescue, saying that on June 23, when the soccer players became trapped, several Thai officials called and asked him to go to the cave as soon as possible. He was the first foreign rescuer to arrive.

He recommended that the Thai government seek help from divers in the United Kingdom, and Unsworth called friend and fellow diver Rob Harper. Harper, who had just returned from exploring Thai caves with Unsworth, brought two other divers, John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, to help with the rescue.

The boys, ages 11-16, were found July 2 by Volanthen and Stanton, according to the lawsuit.

The last soccer player was rescued July 8. "Together with Mr. Unsworth, Mr. Harper, Mr. Volanthen, and Mr. Stanton put together the dive portion of the rescue plan that ultimately saved the boys," the lawsuit stated. It concedes that Unsworth was not involved in the final planning stages of the rescue because he didn't have enough experience to make the dive.

The lawsuit was filed by lawyers led by L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta attorney who has represented plaintiffs in several high-profile libel cases including the family of homicide victim JonBenet Ramsey and security guard Richard Jewel, who was accused in media reports of being a suspect in a 1996 bombing during the Olympics in Atlanta, a crime committed by anti-government extremist Eric Rudolph. The documents said a separate lawsuit would be filed in England.

Unsworth will not do interviews, Wood said, but the attorney said in a statement that Musk's wealth "cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law."

Unsworth's British lawyer, Mark Stephens, said that "Twibels (Twitter libels) show that falsehoods by the rich and powerful can circulate round the globe to their 22.5 million followers and to the media before the truth can pull its boots on."

"The truth has now got its boots on and Elon Musk is being brought to account for repeatedly attacking and taunting the good name of an ordinary spelunker: Vernon Unsworth who answered the call and (with others) put his life on the line to help rescue the 13 trapped in the caves in Thailand," he said.

Stephens did not say when Unsworth planned to file a claim in the British courts.