NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Elon Musk, the brash Silicon Valley billionaire, was sued Monday (Sept 17) by a British caver Musk had accused of being a paedophile after the two butted heads over the high-profile rescue of children from a cave in Thailand this summer.
In the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in California, lawyers for the caver, Vernon Unsworth, accused Musk of embarking on a defamation campaign "to destroy" Unsworth's reputation "by publishing false and heinous accusations of criminality."
"Musk's influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law," one of the caver's lawyers, L. Lin Wood, said in an emailed statement. The suit is seeking damages in excess of US$75,000.
The lawsuit stems from the efforts to rescue members of a children's soccer team who, with their coach, had become trapped by rising waters in a Thai cave on June 23 - a predicament that captivated the world.
According to the lawsuit, Unsworth, who had explored the cave over the past six years, became involved the next day.
In early July, Musk sent a team of engineers from the companies he leads - Tesla, SpaceX and Boring Co. - to Thailand to assist. At the time, he said on Twitter that they might be able to use a "tiny, kid-size submarine" to retrieve the children, a plan that was rejected.
When asked about the idea by a reporter, Unsworth derided it as "just a PR stunt."
"He can stick his submarine where it hurts," Unsworth said in a CNN video. "It just had absolutely no chance of working."
Angered, Musk called Unsworth a "pedo guy" in a series of tweets. While he later deleted and apologised for those messages, Musk renewed the attack recently.
In a pair of emails sent late last month, Musk urged a BuzzFeed News reporter to "stop defending child rapists" after the reporter asked for comment about Unsworth's threat of a lawsuit.
Musk suggested that Unsworth - who denied all of Musk's allegations - had had a child bride. Using an expletive, Musk also invited the lawsuit - a wish fulfilled Monday.
The legal action comes as Musk faces scrutiny for his behaviour in recent weeks.
In August, he abruptly announced on Twitter that he had secured funding to take Tesla, the electric carmaker, private. He later reversed course, but not before the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating whether his original tweet had violated securities law.
In an interview last month with The New York Times, Musk also emotionally described the past year as "excruciating" and "the most difficult and painful year of my career."
And this month, he took a drag from a tobacco-and-marijuana joint during an interview, an act that is legal in California but nevertheless raised concerns among some about his judgment and use of drugs.
Spokesmen for Tesla, SpaceX and Bo. Company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.