Thai cave rescue hero could sue Elon Musk in three countries over 'child rapist' slurs

Tesla founder facing legal action in London, New York and Thailand, where defamation is a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment 

Chris Baynes
Thursday 06 September 2018 15:07 BST
British cave diver considering legal action after Elon Musk 'pedo' tweet

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Elon Musk is facing legal action in three countries over his groundless claims that a British caver who helped rescue 12 boys in Thailand is a “child rapist”.

Vern Unsworth is preparing to sue the Tesla founder for defamation in London and New York after the billionaire inventor repeatedly alleged he was a paedophile in a string of attacks.

He is also understood to be considering taking the case to courts in Thailand, where libel is a criminal offence punishable with a lengthy jail term and severe financial penalties.

Mr Musk had apologised in July after labelling Mr Unsworth a “pedo guy”, a slur which came after the diver dismissed the tycoon’s offer of a mini-submarine to help save the boys’ football team trapped in cave in Chiang Rai as a “publicity stunt”.

But the entrepreneur subsequently doubled down on the allegations with multiple further attacks on Mr Unsworth, who he claimed this week had married a “child bride”, offering no evidence for the allegation.

“Just as we get a series of legal proceedings drafted, Mr Musk utters yet another libel,” Mr Unsworth’s London lawyer, Mark Stephens, told The Independent.

He dismissed Mr Musk’s allegations as “completely untrue” and said his client planned to “compendiously sue him for all the libels”.

Vern Unsworth and his girlfriend Woranan Ratrawiphukkun at an event in Bangkok to celebrate the successful cave rescue
Vern Unsworth and his girlfriend Woranan Ratrawiphukkun at an event in Bangkok to celebrate the successful cave rescue (AP)

In emails this week to a BuzzFeed News reporter who had asked for response to threat of legal action, the Tesla boss said: “I suggest that you call people you know in Thailand, find out what’s actually going on and stop defending child rapists, you f***ing asshole. He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been travelling 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.

“Chiang Rai is renowned for sex trafficking.”

He added: “I f***ing hope he sues me.”

Mr Unsworth, 63, told The Times the allegations were “100 per cent” untrue and “very hurtful”.

The financial broker added: “What he is saying is any farang [foreigner living in Thailand] is a ‘paedo guy’.”

His girlfriend Woranan Ratrawiphukkun, 40, condemned claims her partner had a child bride as “laughable”.

The couple reportedly met while Ms Ratrawiphukkun, a businesswoman, was working in the UK seven years ago and now live together in the countryside near Chiang Rai.

“Vern is a kind person,” she told the Thai website Coconuts. “He rarely has an argument with anyone, and everybody loves Vern. We’ve spent our life together for seven years — he’s a good man and such a gentleman. He thinks of others before himself.”

Mr Unsworth, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, is an experienced cave diver whose intimate knowledge of the Tham Luang cavern complex proved instrumental in the success of July’s rescue.

He pinpointed the higher ground where he correctly predicted the football team and their coach had taken refuge in the caves, and put Thai authorities in touch with three experienced British divers who were the first to locate the boys.

Mr Musk travelled to the caves days into the rescue operation and presented a “kid-sized” capsule submarine he insisted could be used to carry the team to safety along a 1.5-mile network of flooded tunnel.

The chief of the rescue mission described the vessel as “not practical” for the operation, which required squeezing the boys through tight, jagged passageways and Mr Unsworth later said it had “absolutely no chance of working”.

The Briton accused Mr Musk of exploiting the rescue for publicity and told him to “stick his submarine where it hurts”, comments which appeared to infuriate the Space X founder.

Mr Unsworth and the other cave divers ate dinner with the Thai prime minister in Bangkok on Thursday, after attending an event with the schoolboys to launch a public exhibition commemorating their rescue.

“That probably tells you what the Thais think of this, because if they thought he was a sex tourist they wouldn’t be anywhere near,” said Mr Stephens.

A Thai government spokesman, Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, said Mr Musk’s slurs were concerning as they showed the country was seen by foreigners a destination for sex tourists.

He added: “When there is this kind of perception we shouldn’t overlook it. This reflects our image, which we have to fix. We won’t blame him and say ‘Oh, he said all those bad things,’ he said. ‘We should take this information and use it to make changes.’”

If Mr Musk was convicted of libel in Thailand, he could be forced to publish full-page apologies and retractions in the country’s national newspapers each day for a month.

Mr Unsworth's lawyer, Mr Stephens admitted that a lawsuit might be "ruinous for most ordinary folk, it probably wouldn't have much of an impact on Mr Musk's financial well-being."

He added that the case was "about withdrawal of the allegations."

Mr Musk's seemingly erratic behaviour has drawn concern from Tesla investors, some of whom demanded he apologise to Mr Unsworth.

He told The New York Times last month he sometimes regretted his late-night Twitter posts and the company's board was concerned about the damage his outbursts were doing.

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