Entrepreneur Elon Musk is facing a defamation claim from Vernon Unsworth, the diver who played a key role in rescuing the group of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a Thai cave in July.
Unsworth filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles on Monday, demanding at least $75,000 (approx ₹55 lakh) in compensation from the billionaire. The lawsuit also demands an unspecified amount in punitive damages and a court order that would stop Musk from making further allegations.
The feud between the 63-year-old UK diver and the Tesla CEO started over a mini-submarine Musk sent to help with the rescue in northern Thailand. Musk and his team of engineers saw the device as a way to extract the children from the cave. However, Unsworth and other rescuers on the scene deemed it to be impractical.
Ultimately, the submarine was never used. All of the 12 children and their coach were successfully evacuated after the divers taught them to use scuba gear.
On July 13, Unsworth slammed the submarine idea in a CNN interview, saying the vessel "had absolutely no chance of working" and said Musk "had no conception of what the cave passage was like." Unsworth also said the whole event was "just a PR stunt" and that Musk could "stick his submarine somewhere where it hurts."
Two days later, Musk lashed out on Twitter, posting to his 22.5 million followers that he would make a video proving the submarine could make it to the location where the children were trapped.
"Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it," he said.
Musk also said it was suspect that the "British expat guy" was living in Thailand, referring to Thailand's reputation for sex tourism. He also said he had never seen Unsworth while at the scene, despite the United Kingdom national being the first foreign rescuer to join the evacuation effort.
After facing major backlash Musk apologized to the diver, but said his words were "spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths & suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub."
Despite his apology, Musk returned to the topic on August 28, when he tweeted: "You don't think it's strange [Unsworth] hasn't sued me? He was offered free legal services."
A day later, Buzzfeed reported Unsworth was indeed preparing a lawsuit. After emailing Musk for comment, the site published his response in which he tells the reporter "stop defending child rapists."
"He's an old, single white guy from England who's been traveling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time," Musk wrote.
In the lawsuit filed on Monday, Unsworth lawyers say the diver has a partner in Thailand, a 40-year-old woman with whom he shares a house, and that his first visit to the country was in 2011. They reject allegations of pedophilia and say Unsworth has "never been married to a minor."
Unsworth's representatives also said he was planning to file a separate claim in the UK.
Deutsche Welle, or DW, is Germany's public international broadcaster
Inputs by NH Web Desk