Elon Musk Unsinkable: Tesla CEO Exonerated in Defamation Case
A jury acquitted Ilon Musk on the claim of a British diver who accused the billionaire of defamation and demanded $190 million. Bloomberg calls it another example of a high-profile scandal from which Musk managed to get out the winner
Elon Musk emerged victorious from a libel lawsuit. A jury rejected a $190 million lawsuit filed by British diver Vernon Unsworth, Reuters reported. The jury took 45 minutes to decide.
“My faith in humanity is restored,” the 48-year-old billionaire said. Musk insisted in his testimony that his remarks about the diver should not be taken literally. “The words Pedo Guy were a common swear word in South Africa, where I grew up. It’s synonymous with ‘nasty old man,'” he explained. In court, Musk apologized to Unsworth.
Unsworth noted that he has come to terms with the defeat: “We’ve got to move on.” His attorney, Lin Wood, said he had expected a different decision, but stressed that the lawsuit made sense because it helped erase the stain on Unsworth’s reputation.
Unsworth and Musk’s conflict began in the summer of 2018. Back then, they both volunteered to rescue players on a Thai kids’ soccer team and their coach who had been trapped in a cave for 12 days. Musk suggested a small submarine built by his company for the rescue. Unsworth saw this as a “PR stunt.” Musk responded by calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter. He later apologized and deleted the tweet. But in correspondence with BuzzFeed News, he also called the diver a “child rapist” and claimed that Unsworth had moved to Thailand to meet his “fiancée, who is about 12 years old.”
The diver accused the billionaire of defamation and sued him. As it became known Friday, he demanded $190 million in compensation. Musk himself said in court that he has few liquid assets: “Some people think like I have a lot of money. I really don’t.”
As Forbes wrote, 99% of Musk’s fortune is in the securities of Tesla and SpaceX. If a jury had awarded the diver a large compensation, Musk might have had to sell some of his stock or borrow it, Forbes wrote.
The court’s decision reinforces the billionaire’s reputation as someone who manages to come out of the fire relatively unscathed, Bloomberg wrote. “He’s unsinkable now,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said. “Goliath wins almost every time,” was Answorth’s lawyer’s reaction to the verdict.
As examples of scandals from which Musk has emerged with comparatively easy consequences, Bloomberg cites a story about his Twitter post when he said he wanted to make Tesla a private company and even had “guaranteed financing” to buy back shares. The SEC sued him for fraud. The settlement cost Musk $20 million and stripped him of his position as chairman of the Tesla board of directors for three years, but he continued to run the company as CEO anyway.
The SEC later accused him of violating the settlement, but the court dismissed the suit and pushed both sides to reconcile. Bloomberg cites another example of a September 2018 episode in which Musk allegedly smoked marijuana while recording a podcast. After that, the Pentagon said it could revoke Musk’s access to classified information given to him because of SpaceX’s military satellite launch program. And NASA conducted a $5 million check to see if SpaceX employees were using illegal drugs. As a result of the check NASA head Jim Bridenstein said that Musk had promised him that such a thing would not happen again.