Man Claims He Invented Bitcoin, Is Ordered to Pay Billions in Bitcoin

Screenshot: BBC News (YouTube)

A man who has insisted he is the man behind the pseudonymous identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of bitcoin, has been ordered to pay half of his cryptocurrency bounty to a man believed to be his former colleague.

A U.S. district court ruled on Tuesday that Australian computer engineer Craig Wright must pay the estate of David Kleiman, who Wright suggested was his partner before Kleiman died in 2013. According to the Guardian, the Florida judge ordered Wright to pay half of the bitcoin he earned between 2009 and 2013, and half of the intellectual property he owned at the time of Kleiman’s death. The price of bitcoin is in constant flux but as of today, the real Satoshi Nakamoto’s holdings would be worth about 10.45 billion dollars. Meaning Wright has been ordered to hand over more than 5 billion dollars worth of cryptocurrency. But the court did not determine how much bitcoin Wright actually holds.

Public suspicion that Wright was the true Nakamoto started in 2015 when the Australian Taxation Office investigated Wright’s bitcoin connections, and federal police raided his Sydney home. Wright embraced the rumors and claimed he was indeed Nakamoto in 2016, but his nonsensical claims were challenged by many cryptocurrency experts. At the time, he suggested that he had gotten assistance from a deceased computer forensics specialist who had been linked to bitcoin’s origins—Kleiman.

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This revelation inspired Kleiman’s brother to begin a legal battle to uncover the “buried treasure” of his bitcoin. In 2018 Kleiman’s estate sued Wright, alleging that Wright mined bitcoin with Kleiman, and Wright has been attempting to keep the cryptocurrency mined by both of them—which the suit claims amounts to about one million bitcoins—depriving Kleiman’s estate of the half that it should possess.

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The court order this week seems to be a victory for Kleiman’s estate, but Wright insists he can’t access his bitcoin. According to the Guardian, Wright explained to the court that in 2011 he had become concerned with bitcoin’s growing association with illicit activity, so he encrypted his bitcoin and put it in a blind trust, then had the encrypted key split into several slices, which were given to Kleiman who scattered them to other people. Wright claims he can’t decrypt the bitcoin file until he obtains a key that will be delivered by a bonded courier at the beginning of 2020.

The Guardian reports that Judge Bruce Reinhart said during his judgment that Wright’s story was “inconceivable” and his statements were inconsistent.

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“During his testimony, Dr. Wright’s demeanor did not impress me as someone who was telling the truth,” Reinhart said, according to The Guardian. “When it was favorable to him, Dr. Wright appeared to have an excellent memory and a scrupulous attention to detail. Otherwise, Dr. Wright was belligerent and evasive.”

The judge reportedly said at the beginning of his judgment that the court would not be responsible for deciding if Wright is Nakamoto, or how much bitcoin Wright owns. So this saga is likely far from over.

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Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo