A lawyer has sent tech billionaire Elon Musk a brutal letter which confirms British diver Vernon Unsworth is preparing to sue him for defamation.
It comes after the SpaceX and Tesla CEO called the experienced rescuer — who played a vital role in extracting the Thai schoolboys from a perilous flooded cave system last month — a "pedo" in an outrageous, unfounded tweet.
He appeared to double down on the claim yesterday in an online spat with a journalist, who called him out on Twitter.
"You don't think it's strange he hasn't sued me? He was offered free legal services," Tesla's chief posted in response to the criticism.
However, a letter from a solicitor called L. Lin Wood — which was addressed to Musk on August 6 — has been posted by several publications on social media.
Embarrassingly, the letter shows the British diver is "preparing a civil complaint for libel" against Musk — contrary to what he posted on Twitter yesterday.
She writes that Musk made "false and defamatory statements" suggesting Unsworth is a paedophile.
"I have been retained by Vernon Unsworth to represent his interests in connection with the publication on your Twitter account of false and defamatory statements conveying that Unsworth is a paedophile," the letter reads.
"More specifically, you published through three different tweets to your 22 million followers that Mr Unsworth engages in the sexual exploitation of Thai children, and you did so at a time when he was working to save the lives of 12 Thai children.
"You did so without any basis. According to a subsequent Twitter post, you did so out of anger.
"I am in the process of preparing a civil complaint for libel against you. In an attempt to avoid litigation and to see the public record corrected, I invite you or your legal representatives to contact me."
The original "pedo" comment from the Tesla CEO came after Unsworth said the miniature submarine Musk designed and sent to Thailand to help with the rescue of a boys' soccer team and their coach would have been ineffective and was merely a publicity stunt.
After the controversial tweet, Musk apologised to Unsworth.
"His actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologise to Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader," Musk said. "The fault is mine and mine alone."
Yesterday's Twitter spat began when Musk had insisted that, contrary to a piece in The New York Times, he had not shed tears during a recent interview with the publication about his business troubles and bad habits.
TechCrunch writer Drew Olanoff, who uses the name @yoda on Twitter, responded that his new "dedication to truth and facts would have been wonderful if applied to that time you called someone a pedo".
"You don't think it's strange he hasn't sued me?" Musk shot back. "He was offered free legal services. And yet you call yourself @yoda …"
"I think a lot of things are strange, Elon," Olanoff replied. "What I think is especially strange here is that you're wondering why he hasn't sued you while the rest of us are wondering why you did something so egregious that he could sue you for in the first place."
The spat comes as serious questions are being asked of Musk's business style and behaviour.
Some close associates say his say his 110-hour working weeks, inability to delegate and his hands-on approach are taking a physical and mental toll on the visionary businessman — putting the company's 40,000 employees and investors at risk.
Earlier this month he apologised to two analysts he cut off on Tesla's first-quarter call — blaming his recent 110-hour working weeks for making him cranky. He later told reporters he was physically exhausted and emotionally drained from the job — sometimes not going outside for days at a time.
And, while Tesla grapples with internal issues like production delays, a sometimes-erratic CEO and a recent about-face on whether to go private, its rivals are moving aggressively into the luxury electric vehicle space.