Craig Wright – Satoshi Nakamoto or Egotistical Fraud?

Reading Time: 8 minutes
  • Craig Wright claims to have invented Bitcoin, but his claims have never come with conclusive evidence
  • Wright forked Bitcoin to creat Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision, which he says is the real incarnation
  • Wright’s history is chequered with lies, forgeries, and lawsuits

Craig Wright is a man who divides opinion in the cryptocurrency community – most people either love him or hate him. He is the driving force behind Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision (BSV) and an outspoken critic of Bitcoin, but his most heinous crime in the eyes of many is his claim, initially reluctantly but now legally enforced, that he is the creator of Bitcoin – the man behind the moniker ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’.

The man who once stated that he doesn’t want money, fame, or adoration, but instead wants to be left alone, is now suing anyone who he perceives is blocking BSV from becoming an all-consuming blockchain titan, as well as suing individuals who claim he is not Satsohi Nakamoto. It’s about time then that we saw how this all started and how we got to where we are today.

“Unknown Australian Genius”

Wright’s now incessant claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto didn’t originate with him, at least not publicly. Instead, they date back to late 2015 when Wired and Gizmodo websites both ran articles that insinuated that he might be the creator of Bitcoin, along with his former associate Dave Kleiman. Wired referred to Wright as an “unknown Australian genius”, with Kleiman generally afforded a backup role.

The outlets were both emailed information that ‘outed’ Wright, seemingly against his will, which they followed up with their own research before publishing. One of Wright’s associates alleged that Wright had been hacked and extorted, and the identifying information had been leaked to the press due to his non-compliance with their demands.

Just days later, follow up pieces were published which suggested that the issue may not be as clear cut as first thought, that some of the evidence provided did not add up, or was simply fraudulent. This included Wright allegedly lying about his PhDs and his ownership of supercomputers, as well as the fact that a key piece of evidence, the two public keys associated with Wright but also linked to Satoshi Nakamoto, had been created more recently than the documents that featured them.

This was augmented by what Wired referred to as a “trail of breadcrumbs”, including blog posts from 2008 that had been edited years later to add in important details missing when the post was originally written, that handily led all the way to one person being responsible for creating Bitcoin – Craig Wright. Wired also concluded that for the extortion claim to be valid, the entire plot, including the demands, the leaking of the ‘evidence’, and the subsequent threats sent to Wright and to Wired, can also only have been orchestrated by one person – Craig Wright.

Unbeknonwst to the public at the time, Wright had signed a deal six months earlier with the company nCrypt which cleared his bankruptcy and promised him a wealth of riches…as long as he was publicly regnoized as Satoshi Nakamoto. This added more weight to the theory that Wright was the orchestrator of the ‘doxxing’.

Wright has since claimed on multiple occasions that Wired and Gizmodo forced him out of the shadows, but in fact he emailed Dave Kleiman’s father in February 2014, almost a full year before the twin exposés,  to tell him that “your son Dave and I are two of the three people behind Bitcoin”. A week later he told the Australian Tax Office that he invented Bitcoin too.

The day of the Wired and Gizmodo leaks, Wright was hunted by Australian tax officials and the police, but, having been tipped off the day before, Wright managed to flee the apartment he was in and fly to London via Manila and Hong Kong.

Wright’s ‘Proof Session’ Falls Flat

With the cat out of the bag, and Wright now in London, the supposedly reluctant Bitcoin creator set about telling the world just who he was, assisted by a newly-hired PR team, paid for by nCrypt. Needing incontrovertible proof to silence the doubters, in April 2016 Wright sat down with the BBC, the Economist, and GQ magazine to take them through ‘proof sessions’ which involved Wright signing a message using the private encryption keys associated with Satoshi Nakamoto.

This, Wright claimed, would prove he had access to Nakamoto’s wallet and would put to bed any doubts. Like a magician, however, he made sure that the process was shrouded in secrecy, conducting them in private and off-camera. Wright’s showpiece backfired almost immediately after publication iin May 2016 however, with claims pouring in that he had used a publicly available signature associated with Nakamoto and not a private, encrypted one.

In the words of Bitcoin developer Peter Todd this was like “photocopying someone else’s signature on a publicly available document and claiming it’s proof you are them.” Wright was also accused of “…amateur magician tactics to distract non-technical or non-expert staff…during a stage-managed demonstration.” As if to back up the claims that all was not as it seemed, many, like author Andrew O’Hagan who shadowed Wright throughout this process, singled out Wright’s performance in the BBC interview as being that of a man far from confident in his claims:

Fake Article Ends Coin Transfer

In the aftermath of the PR disaster, Wright claimed that he would offer ultimate proof by moving a coin out of one of Satoshi Nakamoto’s wallets. These hopes were dashed however when Wright himself sent around an email with a link to an article that suggested that he could be arrested and charged by UK authorities for terrorism offenses were he to link himself incontrovertibly to Bitcoin.

This suggestion was demonstrably false, as a little bit of research would have uncovered, and the article was later deemed to be fake. However, it was enough for Wright to down tools on the proof sessions having utterly failed to prove his assertion that he was Satoshi Nakamoto, and indeed made to look much worse with his attempted fraud.

This was – or should have been – the end for Wright, who announced that he would never again attempt to offer proof of his link to Nakamoto, saying “…as the events of this week unfolded and I prepared to publish the proof of access to the earliest keys, I broke. I do not have the courage. I cannot.” And all because of a pesky fake article. So close, but yet so far.

Wright has since used the experinece of author Jean-Paul Sartre, who rejected a Nobel prize in 1964 saying “If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner”, to explain why he didn’t follow through with the signing session. To many however, this seemed like a cop out.

Wright’s IP “Land Grab”

After a year of licking his wounds and seemingly with the failed attempt behind him, Wright was back in the headlines again in March 2017 when he combined with casino tycoon Calvin Ayre to file dozens of patents relating to blockchain and cryptocurrency, which Reuters described as an intellectual property “land grab”.

This attempt to monopolize so many aspects of the blockchain ecosystem seemed to many to fly in the face of the decentralized approach that Satoshi Nakamoto laid out in the Bitcoin whitepaper, and merely distanced Wright further from the idea that he was the mastermind of the world’s premiere decentralized currency.

By this time Wright had returned to claiming he was Satoshi Nakamoto, which was met by a chorus of accusations of him being a fraud, a fact not helped by the 2017 Bitcoin Cash hard fork that pitted Wright against the Bitcoin community once more. Even Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin got in on the act, stating that he believed Wright chose to make the Nakamoto claim “because it’s an easy on-ramp to fame and notoriety, pure and simple.”

This ties in with the claim from nCrypt CEO Robert MacGregor who stated in 2016 that Wright “freaking loves” the attention that the Satoshi claims brought him and that he sought the “adoration” that final confirmation would offer.

Kleiman Trial Revealed More Lies

With all hope of a definite claim seemingly abandoned, in early 2018 Wright was sued by the Kleiman estate, who claimed that the pair mined between 550,000 and 1,100,000 BTC. The suit alleged that Wright forged and backdated a number of documents after Kleiman’s death to make it look like Kleiman had signed away his shares when he in fact had not, which would mean that Wright owed the estate 300,000 BTC. Wright was also accused of unfailry awarding himself tens of billions of dollars worth of intellectual property from W&K Informational Defense, the company Wright and Kleiman owned together and through which they supposeldy mined the bitcoin, which he used to offest against the tax bills.

In December 2021, Wright was adjudged to have committed conversion over the aqcuisition of the intellectual property and was ordered to pay W&K $100 million, although the Kleiman estate was not awarded any of the bitcoin. This was a good thing for Wright, as the evidence for the Tulip Trust that Wright claimed contained the bitcoin was shown to be fraudulent.

The Satoshi Lawsuits

In March 2019, shortly after Wright either rage quit or was booted off Twitter, Wright’s money man Calvin Ayre set Twitter ablaze when he announced that Wright was planning to take legal action against naysayers:

This pronouncement resulted in Wright suing a bevvy of individuals including Adam Back, Vitalik Buterin, Peter McCormack, Roger Ver, and unknown Twitter user Hodlonaut. Wright dropped the case against Back and let the case against Buterin lapse, but continued on with cases against Ver, McCormack, and Hodlonaut, which will be decided in 2022.

Two months after this pronouncement, Wright claimed that he had been given copyright over the Bitcoin whitepaper by the U.S. Copyright Office, a claim that was quickly debunked. He had more success in the UK in June 2021 when he forced the whitepaper off the site after the site’s owner, Cøbra, declined to contest on the grounds that he didn’t want to reveal his identity, although in the eyes of the law this did not mean he was confirmed as the copyright holder.

Wright got a taste of his own medicine in April 2021 when a new group, the Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance (COPA), which featured Bitcoin heavyweights Blockstream, Square (now Block), and Coinbase, sued Wright for claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, challening him to prove it in court. This case will likely reach court in 2023.

And this isn’t it. Wright is also suing a plethora of Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, and Bitcoin SV developers over an alleged 111,000 Wright claims was stolen from him in a hack in February 2020. The details of this hack are highly suspicious, but not as suspicious as his claims to own the bitcoin in the first place. Wright is using the ‘hack’ to try and force a judge to rule that the blockchains should essentially be rewound to get the coins back to him, something that goes against the very principles of blockchian technology.

Whatever happens during these court cases, it likely won’t have any impact on his followers, although any losses will certainly have a signficant impact on his wallet – or that of Calvin Ayre, anyway.

Explanations Not Enough

So is Wright Satoshi Nakamoto? Almost certainly no. His manufactured ‘proof sessions’ in 2016 were nothing but a cheap trick designed to fool the uninitiated, and when given the chance to answer his critics he hid behind a fraudulent article about a non-existent threat to his freedom. It is also inconceivable that the person behind Bitcoin, the person who went to great lengths to protect his identity and the very existence of Bitcoin in its early days before stepping away at the first sign of mainstream publicity, would come out years later and be so desperate to prove his identity that he would rant and rage about it and issue frivolous lawsuits to naysayers.

In our opinion, Wright has shown little but forged documents and access to publicly available digital signatures to back up his claims, claims he is now enforcing in court because this is his last resort. Even if he wins all his cases, he will still not have proven cryptographically that he created Bitcoin, which is what his doubters are demanding of him. However, Wright has since said that he will not take any action with the original Satoshi wallets to prove his claim because “proof of keys does not constitute proof of identity”. Instead, he is trying to force judges to confirm that BSV is the real Bitcoin, which is the only way he is going to get the adoption his project so desperately needs.

When trying to sum Craig Wright up, the Wired article from 2015 that opened the whole can of worms made a neat summary that, all these years later, still rings true today:

Either Wright invented bitcoin, or he’s a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did.