Self-Proclaimed Bitcoin Inventor Says Fortune Inaccessible
(Bloomberg) -- Craig Wright, the Australian scientist who claims he created Bitcoin, said at a federal court hearing in West Palm Beach, Florida, that he can’t comply with an order to produce a list of all his early Bitcoin addresses, and may not even be ever able to access the coins.
Wright is defending himself against charges that he stole Bitcoins and intellectual property worth billions from a late business partner. The case could potentially help shed light on whether he really is Satoshi Nakamoto -- something that many in the cryptocurrency community doubt.
At times choking back tears, Wright told the judge that he is Nakamoto, the pseudonym used by the digital token’s creator in 2009, and that Dave Kleiman, whose estate is suing him, was tasked with covering up Wright’s tracks, so people wouldn’t find out he was Satoshi.
Wright said he decided to stop working on Bitcoin in 2010, the result of concern that the token was increasingly being used to trade drugs and child pornography. “I brought in Dave because he was a friend and he knew who I was and he was a forensic expert, and I wanted to wipe everything I had to do with Bitcoin from the public record,” he said.
Billions are potentially riding on the outcome. The creator likely owns about $10 billion Bitcoin based on current prices, casting great sway over the market. Bitcoin SV, an offshoot that Wright supports, is valued at about $3.9 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Were Wright’s reputation to take a hit, this coin could get hurt as well.
Wright said he handed off a key piece of information to Kleiman before he died in 2013, making it hard to track down the digital wallets holding the Bitcoins. He said it’s possible he may never be able to access the coins. Which is just fine by him.
“My wife and I consider it’s too much money," Wright said. "I’ve got enough now… and we worry what that amount of money would do to the kids."
The case got started early last year, when Kleiman’s estate filed a complaint alleging that Wright stole "hundreds of thousands” of Bitcoins and intellectual property from when they worked together.
Kleiman and Wright used to be business partners, according to the estate’s lawsuit. After Kleiman’s death in April 2013 from MRSA, Wright allegedly forged a series of contracts to transfer assets and companies to himself, the lawsuit said. Wright has denied all allegations.
A federal judge ordered Wright to submit documentation of his early Bitcoin holdings. Wright had previously said in filings that that would be difficult, as his holdings are in a blind trust, guarded by multiple trustees.
Wright attended mediation in Florida in mid-June, but "case did not settle," according to a court document.
This is just one of the legal cases Wright is involved in. Earlier this year, he sued or threatened to sue three people for libel, because all three called him a fraud, and said they don’t believe he is Nakamoto.
Fingers have pointed at many people as Nakamoto over the years, and Wright is just one. In late 2015, Wired magazine and Gizmodo reported that he and Kleiman may have invented Bitcoin. A few days later, Wired said Wright may instead be “a brilliant hoaxer.” Police raided Wright’s home in Australia as part of a tax investigation; he moved to Britain.
Bitcoin holdings attributed to Nakamoto haven’t moved in years, according to online ledgers. Critics have urged Wright to verify his identity by transferring some coins, a proposal he has refused.
At the hearing today, emotions ran high. At one point, Wright threw down a document and was rebuked by the judge that he would be "in handcuffs" for doing that again. Shortly afterward, the judge called a short recess, and suggested Wright’s attorneys have a talk with their client about answering questions directly and not giving speeches. During the flurry of emotions, even the court reporter has to ask the parties to slow down.
When the plaintiffs suggested he falsified some documents, Wright said, "I do not manipulate metadata on things for any purpose." During the proceeding, he engaged in a lengthy debate over whether an exhibit represented an email or a PDF of an email, and questioned many other facts.
"Does anyone have any reading glasses?" Wright called out at another time to the courtroom at large; his attorney provided the glasses. Wright also used a profane version of the phrase "messed up," saying he once wanted the Bitcoins donated to make amends. He then apologized to the judge.
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