A verdict arrived Monday in the civil trial between Craig Wright and the estate of former collaborator Dave Kleiman. A jury found Wright guilty of intellectual property theft and has ordered him to pay $100 million in damages to an entity he founded with Kleiman, W&K Info Defense. At the same time, the jury found Wright not guilty of stealing half of the proceeds of a bitcoin mining business which plaintiffs claimed was a partnership with Kleiman.
But some publications are offering a much different interpretation of the jury’s decision: That they conclusively uncovered the true identity of Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto.
That headline is courtesy, as some of you will guess, of a website called CoinGeek. As evidence for its startling claim, the article quotes a statement made by Wright’s lawyer Andres Rivero after the trial: “The decision reached by the jury today reinforces what we already knew to be the truth: Dr. Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, the sole creator of Bitcoin and block chain technology.”
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This statement, made outside of court proceedings by Wright’s own attorney, obviously has nothing to do with the jury’s ruling. The case did not consider the question of Satoshi’s real identity.
CoinGeek has relentlessly engaged in similar distortions of the essence of the trial, stretching back to its pretrial stage years ago. This has turned out to be a masterful strategy, in part because the odd nature of the case meant any verdict could have been spun to Wright’s benefit. Today, a disturbing number of mainstream news outlets are echoing CoinGeek’s version of events, knowingly or not.
CoinGeek has clear financial motives for its campaign. The website is an Ayre Group company, one of several owned by (federally indicted) gambling entrepreneur Calvin Ayre. The Ayre Group is also an investor in nChain, the company that employs Wright as chief scientist. The Ayre Group has also invested in several projects, including HandCash and Taal, built on BSV, the fork of Bitcoin that Wright has pitched as designed according to “Satoshi’s vision.”
Strictly on formal financial grounds, then, CoinGeek is not a news site, but an “owned media” branch of Ayre Group’s nChain/BSV efforts. As a business operation, it serves the same function as, say, the Taco Bell Blog – promoting its parent entity’s services, products and agenda.
To be fair, the Taco Bell Blog appears to have much higher production values and commitment to accuracy than CoinGeek. Take, as a random example that popped up while I was researching this piece, a CoinGeek headline that claims FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried will appear “in court” today. The event in question is testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, which is absolutely not a “court.”
(Ayre also gets his hands dirty as a frequent and vocal defender of Wright and BSV on Twitter, popping up with relentless Reply Guy energy in completely unrelated threads.)
What the trial was really about
Above all, plaintiff Ira Kleiman, suing on behalf of his deceased brother Dave Kleiman, has tried to make a claim against what Wright’s legal team describes as “the Satoshi coins.” That stash of bitcoin (BTC), now worth nearly $50 billion, was supposedly mined as part of Wright and Dave Kleiman’s early collaboration. Wright claims he owns the Satoshi coins, but he has never demonstrated that he holds the private keys that would allow him to move, send or sell them. In fact, some of the wallets have been used to sign messages calling Wright a fraud. Serious analysts suspect that Wright simply picked a list of wallets with big bitcoin balances and claimed to own them.
But Wright’s claims to own $50 billion worth of bitcoin were not in dispute during the trial. Instead, the jury was asked to evaluate email messages and other documents that the plaintiffs argued showed Wright and Dave Kleiman had formed a partnership to work on bitcoin. There was significant ambiguity in those communications, and the jury didn’t find the evidence convincing, rejecting the Kleiman estate’s claim.
But Wright’s control of those coins, which could support his claim to be Satoshi, was simply bracketed for the purpose of the trial – taken as given and not directly interrogated.
On some level, then, you can’t be too mad when that complexity winds up as a Fox Business headline claiming that Wright “keeps Bitcoins worth $50B” after the trial, or when the Associated Press treats “a cryptocurrency fortune worth tens of billions” as a given, rather than a possible hoax itself.
Some mainstream news outlets have gone much further in mirroring Ayre and CoinGeek’s distorted perspective. Most puzzling is the case of The Wall Street Journal, whose headline yesterday absurdly refers to the trial as the “Satoshi Nakamoto suit.” The story’s first sentence describes a trial that “revolved around the identity of the digital currency’s anonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto,” a claim totally unsupported by the actual content of the proceedings.
This is the second time the Journal has badly flubbed its coverage of the trial. I must admit complete befuddlement at this level of journalistic ineptitude, but you can guess how overjoyed Wright’s supporters must be.
See also: The Trash Moat: When the Media Lies About Crypto | Paul Dylan-Ennis
But no amount of spin can erase the part of the trial that actually did occur. Though it dismissed most of the plaintiff’s claims, the jury found Wright guilty of one count – the theft of intellectual property from his work with Kleiman under the auspices of W&K. The jury ordered Wright to pay $100 million in damages to the company, whose ownership is in dispute.
This finding of theft and deceit by Wright is not incidental or a footnote – it, not the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, was part of the actual substance of the case. Dave Kleiman was a seriously disabled man who appears to have struggled greatly in his final years (in fact, establishing this was part of the defense’s strategy as it tried to prove Kleiman was too sick to actively contribute to his work with Wright). Wright had repeatedly described Kleiman as a very close friend and in other warm terms in private communications, and said he regarded Dave’s death as tragic. Yet the jury ultimately agreed with the plaintiff’s claim that Wright stole Kleiman’s work using, in part, a series of falsified and backdated documents.
The jury ruled not that Wright is “100% Satoshi Nakamoto,” but that he stole from the surviving family of a quadriplegic collaborator who had recently died tragically. Those actions say a great deal about Wright’s character, and should be weighed carefully by anyone who regards him as their champion or ally.