Australian computer scientist Craig Wright once again finds himself at the centre of a legal battle, this time regarding the rights to Satoshi’s 1.1 million BTC wallet, currently valued at US$69 billion.
On November 1, the crypto “Trial of the Century” kicked off in Miami, US, with plaintiff Ira Kleiman facing off against Wright, the self-proclaimed Satoshi Nakamoto, the presumed peudonymous developer of Bitcoin. Many hope that the trial will shed some light on Wright’s claims. However, that’s less the primary focus of the trial than whether the late David Kleiman (Ira’s brother) and Wright were business partners, entitling Ira to half the contents of the wallet.
Given bitcoin’s current price, the wallet’s holdings – assuming the holder started with no net worth – would make its possessor the 15th richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.
The Fight for ‘Satoshi’s Bitcoins’
Wright, the Australian crypto pioneer who has made various claims that he is Satoshi Nakamoto, is fighting a lawsuit that could end with him having to share the contents of Satoshi’s wallet. Wright has even gone to the lengths of filing lawsuits against those who have alleged that he isn’t Satoshi.
Kleiman alleges that his late brother David, who was a computer forensics expert, collaborated with Wright on the creation and early development of Bitcoin. The Kleiman estate is asking for US$11.4 billion, alongside the return of intellectual property or its fair market value. Wright claims he is the sole inventor and thus the only individual entitled to the billions held in the wallet.
The suit alleges that David Kleiman and Wright formed a partnership and established an entity called W&K Info Defense Research, LLC, which they used to mine bitcoin and organise their joint intellectual property, including the Bitcoin source code. It is also alleged that Kleiman was involved in multiple business relationships with Wright. The Kleiman estate has accused Wright of perpetrating “a scheme against Dave’s estate to seize Dave’s bitcoins and his rights to the intellectual property associated with the Bitcoin technology”.
The case file from 2018 states that “it is undeniable … that Craig and Dave were involved in Bitcoin from its inception and that they both accumulated a vast wealth of bitcoins from 2009 through 2013”.
A panel of 10 jurors will have three weeks to hear the evidence and decide the fate of what Wright’s team is calling “Satoshi’s bitcoins”.
Can They Even Access the Wallet?
The still-unsolved mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity, and Wright’s seeming inability to retrieve the coins in his wallet, means that recovering the coins may not be possible in any case.
According to Aaron Brown, a crypto investor who also writes for Bloomberg Opinion, Wright is definitely “an important early innovator in cryptocurrency, and is also rich from cryptocurrency”, adding: “beyond that, his claims to be the main or only author of the original Bitcoin white paper have little support”.
To this day, Wright hasn’t been able to prove that he is in fact Satoshi or that he even has access to the wallet. After announcing in May 2016 that he would move Satoshi’s bitcoin – proving he had access to Satoshi’s private keys and was, therefore, Satoshi – Wright failed to do so, writing, “I do not have the courage. I cannot”, in a now-deleted blog post. If Wright really is Bitcoin’s inventor, he should presumably have the ability to control the keys.
While Bitcoin SV proponents and Wright’s fans believe the trial will finally prove Wright’s Satoshi claims, others believe it may disprove his theories. If Kleiman wins the case, but Wright is proven not to be Satoshi (or has lost access to the wallet), will Kleiman still be able to access the bitcoin at the heart of the dispute? Most likely not.
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