OSLO, Norway — Lawyers for Craig Wright, the Australian computer scientist best known for claiming to be the inventor of Bitcoin, said he will not provide any new cryptographic proof that he is Satoshi Nakamoto during his trial against bitcoiner Hodlonaut. The trial kicked off here on Monday.
The Norwegian trial is one of two simultaneous lawsuits centered around a series of tweets from March 2019 in which Hodlonaut expressed doubt about Wright’s claims to be Satoshi, and called him a “fraud” and a “scammer.” Hodlonaut, known in real life as Magnus Granath, initiated the lawsuit in Norway to get a judge to rule that his tweets were protected by the constitutional right to freedom of speech, and prevent Wright’s defamation suit filed in the U.K. from moving forward.
During his opening statements on Tuesday, Wright’s lead attorney, Halvor Manshaus, told the court that establishing Wright’s ownership of Satoshi’s private keys – a move many of Wright’s doubters say would settle the years-long argument over his claims – isn’t enough.
“Craig Wright is of the perception that to sign … with the private key, one block or the other … is not conclusive evidence of whether he is Satoshi or not,” Manshaus told the court. “It’s never one thing or the other is sufficient, you need several elements, you need the whole package.”
Manshaus also read numerous excerpts from Andrew O’Hagan’s 2016 article “The Satoshi Affair” to show that, in addition to not feeling like cryptographic evidence would be enough to silence his critics, Wright has also struggled emotionally with the burden of “proving” his identity as Satoshi.
Using passages from “The Satoshi Affair,” Manshaus argued that Wright has “difficulty trusting people” and suffered extreme emotional pain and “exhaustion” after a private signing session – intended to prove his ownership of Satoshi’s private keys – with Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen in 2016, that caused him to break down in tears.
Determining ‘Satoshiness’ without cryptographic proof
Instead of cryptographic proof, Manshaus attempted to convince the court of his client’s identity as Satoshi with other pieces of evidence, including a personal history allegedly in line with the creation of Bitcoin. Manshaus’ opening statements also leaned heavily on Andresen’s 2016 assertions that he believed Wright to be Satoshi following the private signing session.
What Manshaus glossed over, however, is that Andresen later retracted his support for Wright: When Andresen was deposed for Wright’s trial against the estate of his former friend Dave Kleiman, he testified that he had been “bamboozled” by Wright, who used “gobbledegook proof” to demonstrate his possession of Satoshi’s private keys.
The support of former Bitcoin Foundation Director Jon Matonis – who wrote a blog post called “How I Met Satoshi” in 2016 after a private proof session with Wright – also featured heavily in Wright’s legal team’s opening statements.
Convincing the likes of Matonis and Andresen, Manshaus argued, the latter of which he described as “a very critical person in the beginning … extremely critical,” was proof enough of Wright’s claim to be Satoshi.
In addition to the “proof” Wright offered privately, Manshaus detailed Wright’s childhood in Australia, during which he spent time with his grandfather, Captain Ronald Lynam, learning to code and operate a ham radio in the family “hamshack.”
Manshaus also told the court about Wright’s long-standing obsession with Japanese culture (confirmed by a quote from Wright’s mother in “The Satoshi Affair”) that explained his choice of pseudonym.
Satoshi, Manshaus said, means “Ash” in Japanese – and Wright chose it because he wanted Bitcoin to take down the legacy financial system, and “rise like a phoenix from its ashes.” It had the added benefit, according to Manshaus, of being the Japanese-language name of Pokemon character Ash Ketchum. (Note: CoinDesk attempted to verify this claim, and found that Satoshi has several meanings, depending on the kanji used, none of which translate to “Ash.” Furthermore, the Japanese name for Ash Ketchum is based on Pokemon creator Satoshi Taijiri’s name, according to gaming website CBR. The spelling Taijiri uses for “Satoshi” translates to “knowledge” or “wisdom.”)
Wright’s academic achievements and military career – both of which appear to have been exaggerated (for example, Australian public military records seem to indicate that Wright was discharged by the Royal Australian Air Force only a year after being accepted into a nine-year officer program) – were also presented to the court as evidence that Wright had the skills, knowledge and experience required to create Bitcoin.
During their opening statements on Monday, Hodlonaut’s attorneys told the court they’d commissioned multinational auditing firm KPMG to authenticate Wright’s evidence submitted in the case. The report is expected to show that many documents submitted by Wright are either manipulated or unverifiable, and will be discussed when a KPMG representative testifies on Friday.
Though the contents of the 73-exhibit report have not yet been made public, Wright’s attorneys attempted to preemptively debunk it during their statements on Tuesday, telling the court that there are reasons for documents to appear manipulated (such as being opened in two different versions of Microsoft Word) that don’t necessarily point to intentional manipulation.
The current trial in Norway is not the first time Wright’s alleged history of submitting false evidence has influenced court proceedings.
In the Kleiman vs. Wright trial held in November, lawyers for the plaintiff called witnesses who testified about Wright’s business dealings, suspected forged signatures and backdated documents. They also referenced Wright’s legal issues with the Australian Tax Office (ATO), who concluded after a lengthy investigation that Wright had backdated and forged contracts provided during an audit, and was pretending to be Satoshi to get around his tax issues (Wright, for his part, claimed that the ATO was the victim of a hack that resulted in funky documents).
In Wright’s libel suit against British podcaster Peter McCormack, a U.K. judge ruled that Wright had “advanced a deliberately false case” and put forward false evidence, and awarded him a single British pound in damages (Through his lawyers, Wright told CoinDesk he intends to appeal the “adverse findings” because his evidence was “misunderstood.”)
The hashtag dilemma
Another key theme of Manshaus’ opening statements on Tuesday was the hashtag Hodlonaut used in his March 2019 tweets, #CraigWrightIsAFraud. By using a hashtag, Manshaus argued, Hodlonaut amplified his criticisms of Wright by creating a repository for similar tweets using the same hashtag.
“His statement directly encourages other people to follow up the attack against Craig Wright with the same language, the same form,” Manshaus said. “We are going to see that encouraged a rapid and toxic attack against Craig Wright.”
Manshaus told the court that when Wright complained to Twitter about the hashtag and subsequent criticism, his account was deleted.
He also said that the online criticism of Wright spilled over into other social media platforms, including a Telegram group called “Bitcoin Plebs” that encouraged its approximately 400 members to “organize a bitcoin pleb attack on some s**tcoin scammers,” which included putting “pressure on exchanges to delist these scams.”
Manshaus admitted there was no evidence that Hodlonaut was involved in this Telegram group, but told the court:
“Could be that Holdonaut has nothing to do with these people except they see the tweet and react … but still, we believe that it’s as likely or more likely that Hodlonaut himself is more involved than that, that he’s in one of these groups, that he’s taking the initiative here …”
Manshaus went on to say that the “BSV extinction event” (referring to the massive delisting of Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision, the fork of Bitcoin created by Wright) the members of “Bitcoin Plebs” were angling for was a result – direct or indirect – of Hodlonaut’s criticism.
The exchanges that delisted BSV, however, including Binance and Kraken, stated they did so because of Wright’s behavior, including doxxing and suing Hodlonaut and others.
Witness testimony begins
With opening statements concluded, witness testimony will begin on Wednesday. Wright and Hodlonaut are both expected to testify.
On Thursday and Friday, the court will hear testimony from additional witnesses: Wright’s cousin, Max Lynam; a so-far unnamed expert from KPMG who will go over the findings of the report; Dr. Ami Klin, an autism expert who diagnosed Wright with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and testified on his behalf at the Kleiman vs. Wright trial last year; and Stefan Matthews, an associate of Wright’s.
Andresen and Matonis are not expected to testify.
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