Tesla CEO Elon Musk privately called himself a “f—ing idiot” for claiming without evidence that a British cave diver attempting to rescue a Thai soccer team was “a child rapist.”
“I didn’t expect Buzzfeed to publish an off the record email,” Musk wrote in an email to a public relations agent. “My intent was to have them investigate and come to their own conclusions, not publish my email directly. Still, I’m a f—ing idiot.”
“In the past, Buzzfeed has respected emails prefaced with ‘off the record,’ but this time they did not,” he added. “It was still one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.”
Musk first used the phrase “pedo guy” in a July 2018 tweet. Unsworth, a professional diver who played a pivotal role in the high-profile rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach stranded in a flooded cave, criticized Musk’s efforts to use a submarine as “PR stunt” that had “absolutely no chance of working.”
The next month, the tech executive emailed reporter Ryan Mac with new allegations against Unsworth, prefacing that that the message was “off the record.”
Mac, having not agreed to the off-the-record exchange in advance, subsequently published the email in which Musk claimed that Unsworth had moved to Thailand in the hopes of finding a child bride.
“I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists,” Musk wrote, according to BuzzFeed News. “He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.”
Unsworth lawyers also allege in the new documents that Musk had repeatedly tried to feed false stories to the press, encouraging his private investigator James Howard-Higgins to “leak” information.
“We would like you to immediately move forward with ‘leaking’ this information to the UK press. Obviously must be done very carefully,” Jared Birchall, the head of Musk’s family office, wrote in an email to Howard-Higgins.
BuzzFeed News later reported that Howard-Higgins was previously sentenced to to three years in prison for fraud and was accused of stealing money from his business associates.
Unsworth’s attorney Mark Stephens told Business Insider that none of the information dug up by the private eye included allegations of Unsworth marrying a 12-year-old.
“Nothing in [Howard-Higgins’] report would reflect or give grounds to say that,” Stephens said.
Musk admitted during his deposition that he did not know whether the allegations he leveled against Unsworth were “true or false” when he emailed the journalist.
Lawyers for the SpaceX CEO previously argued that Musk’s allegations were an “imaginative attack” protected by the First Amendment and most people who read the “over-the-top” claims likely did not believe they were true.
“Musk’s statements cannot reasonably be read as asserting underlying knowledge that Unsworth was a pedophile,” the motion states.
Unsworth, a 64-year-old financial consultant from London, was awarded an MBE from the British Royal Family in June. An MBE is one of five classes of appointments to the Order of the British Empire. It stands for Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.