Elon Musk was upset that a British diver had “denigrated” the efforts of his staff to develop a child-sized submarine when he tweeted calling him a “pedo guy”, a court heard on Wednesday.
The billionaire is being sued for defamation by Vernon Unsworth over the tweets, which he sent after the caver dismissed a submarine being developed by Mr Musk’s engineers to help rescue children from a flooded cave in northern Thailand.
“He denigrated the efforts of my team. There were a lot of people who worked day and night to be helpful,” Mr Musk said .
“They cancelled plans, their obligations, left their families behind to try and be helpful and he denigrated their efforts.”
Mr Unsworth was a coordinator of the rescue, which successfully saved a Thai boys’ football team from the cave in June and July 2018.
In the second day of his testimony Mr Musk repeatedly insisted that his tweets were not meant to be taken seriously.
The entrepreneur, who runs aerospace company SpaceX as well as electric car firm Tesla, said he regretted the comments and admitted that they had caused “grief” to Mr Unsworth but argued they were “off-the-cuff” remarks and not meant to imply that he was actually a paedophile.
“It’s like what my mum used to say, if someone insults you, just let it go,” he told the court.
“I want to be clear, I did not accuse Mr Unsworth of being a paedophile.”
Mr Unsworth was due to give evidence later in the day, as is Jared Birchall, the manager of Mr Musk’s family office, who helped to hire a British private investigator to look into the caving expert’s background.
Mr Musk admitted on Monday that the investigator, James Howard, had fed his staff false information, but said he had hired him in response to the imminent lawsuit from Mr Unsworth.
“It sounded like there were some bad things going on,” he told the court.
Mr Unsworth sued Mr Musk for $75,000 last year following the tweets, which he argued damaged his reputation by making people believe he was a paedophile.