Finance

Elon Musk opens up about his wealth and his state of mind during second day of testimony in ‘pedo guy’ defamation trial

LOS ANGELES — Tesla CEO Elon Musk was in court Wednesday for another round of questioning in his defamation trial.

Musk said that an insult he lobbed at a British diver on social media in 2018 “was very much an off-the-cuff response” to what he perceived to be a slight against him.

That diver is Vernon Unsworth, who is suing Musk for calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter after Unsworth took part in the 2018 rescue operation that freed 12 boys and a soccer coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand.

“It’s an insult, like saying mother-effer doesn’t actually mean someone having sex with their mother,” Musk told jurors, at one point recounting some parental advice: “As my mom said, ‘if somebody insults you, just let it go.'”

Musk had delivered his insult to Unsworth when the diver criticized him days after the successful rescue operation ended. Unsworth called Musk’s “mini-sub” that he had sent to the rescue operation a “PR stunt,” and said Musk “can stick his submarine where it hurts.”

On the witness stand a day earlier, Musk argued “I didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile.” But at the height of his feud with Unsworth, Musk pushed the assertion in follow-up postings, paid a private investigator $52,000 to find evidence of sexual misconduct involving Unsworth, and months later wondered aloud on the social media platform why Unsworth had not sued him yet.

Unsworth said the sting of the ordeal remains with him. 

“Feels very raw. Feel humiliated, ashamed, dirtied … I feel very vulnerable. It hurts to talk about it,” he said in his first day of testimony. 

The case puts front-and-center the potential consequences of public musings from an outsize figure like Musk and the effects those statements can have on a private citizen who happened to cross him. Unsworth’s lawyers have argued that their client did not seek to capitalize on his quarrel with the Tesla CEO. 

Musk offered other insights about his life, including his personal wealth which he said totals about $20 billion, a large portion of which is locked up in non-liquid assets. “People think I have a lot of cash. I actually don’t,” Musk said, adding: “I have stock in SpaceX and Tesla, and debt against that.”

The subject of his wealth will be pertinent when jurors begin deliberations.

Unsworth notched a victory in earlier proceedings when a judge ruled he was not a public figure, which lowered the threshold for proving defamation. The diver’s lawyers must now successfully prove that Musk’s actions demonstrated negligence to the extent that they harmed Unsworth.

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