OSLO, Norway — Craig Wright told a Norwegian court on Wednesday that he “stomped on the hard drive” that contained the “key slices” required to grant him access to Satoshi Nakamoto’s private keys, making it “incredibly difficult” to cryptographically prove he is the creator of Bitcoin – a title he has claimed but failed to prove since 2016.
Wright’s inability to back up his claims with acceptable evidence is the issue at the center of his trial in Norway, one of two simultaneous legal battles between Wright and crypto Twitter personality Hodlonaut (real name Magnus Granath) over a series of tweets Hodlonaut – then, a public school teacher with roughly 8,000 Twitter followers – wrote in March 2019, deeming Wright a pretender and calling him a “scammer” and a “fraud.”
Wright previously attempted to prove he was Satoshi in 2016 by demonstrating “proof” that he controlled Satoshi’s private keys – first, in private “signing sessions” with Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen and former Bitcoin Foundation Director Jon Matonis (Andresen later said he’d been “bamboozled” by Wright and Matonis went on to work for a company owned by Wright), and later, in a public blog post offering “proof” that was thoroughly debunked by several well-known cryptography experts.
In Norway, however, Wright is no longer attempting to convince the court he is Satoshi with cryptographic evidence – partly because he claims to have intentionally destroyed his only proof shortly after attempting suicide in May 2016, following his signing session with Andresen, and partly because he now claims cryptographic proof is inconclusive and that “identity is not related to keys.”
Destroying the hard drive, Wright told the court, was “the only way” to avoid being forced to prove his identity cryptographically – something he said he “refused” to do because it would give his critics “the easy way out.”
“I didn’t want to encourage the arguments that you need keys,” Wright said animatedly when asked by Hodlonaut’s lawyer, Ørjan Haukaas, whether he destroyed the hard drive on purpose. “Yes, you could say this is a risk, but I think it’s the most important thing I’ve done in my life.”
Instead of signing, Wright aims to leverage his academic achievements (which, like many of his other claims, are also widely debated), career history, mountain of patents, and his relationships with “100 people” – including Andresen (“What proves [I am Satoshi] is my time talking to Gavin,” Wright said) – to confirm he is Satoshi “the traditional way”.”
Wright told District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen that his ultimate motive was to get judges to “understand” that they could seize bitcoin from criminals via court order.
“The whole point I’m trying to make, and that I’m going to make, is that Bitcoin is not encrypted.”
“There’s a lot of misinformation from BTC maximalists that want to go back to drug markets, porn…I want it known that these lies, these slanderous accusations about how law enforcement can’t take bitcoin from criminals are wrong,” Wright said, his voice raised and hands waving.
When Haukaas asked Wright if he believed that, if a judge declared him to be Satoshi, he could get a court order granting him access to Satoshi’s supposed trove of 1.1 million bitcoins that he “lost” along with the keys, Wright quibbled with the figure (“Satoshi never had 1.1 million bitcoins,” he said) but seemed to agree.
“They were stolen,” Wright said. “I’m taking action to have the thieves not benefit; thieves should not benefit from stolen property.”
Wright told the court a little thing like not having Satoshi’s keys wouldn’t stop him from accessing Satoshi’s coins, if a judge such as herself was amenable.
“Bitcoin is like a paper ledger. If you make a mistake in an accounting ledger, you can always update it…any alteration including having a court order that reassigns bitcoin can always be done, but it has to be a public thing such as a court order.”
(The logistics of how the Bitcoin blockchain works would make such a court order not only unenforceable, but extremely difficult to implement from a technological standpoint. The only other way to move the coins would be to use the private keys Wright claims to have destroyed.)
Attempting to debunk the debunkers
In addition to his testimony about destroying his alleged access to Satoshi’s keys, Wright also spent a significant amount of time on the stand responding to his attorney Halvor Manshaus’ questions about the legitimacy of the “arguments from the internet” that featured heavily in Haukaas’ opening statements on Monday.
Particular attention was paid to an article by Jameson Lopp, published in Bitcoin Magazine in 2019, that debunks various pieces of evidence put forward by Wright to “prove” he is Satoshi.
Manshaus went over each of Lopp’s arguments showing inconsistencies between Wright’s story and the Satoshi history, and asked Wright to comment, chuckling softly as he read each one aloud.
Wright told the court that Lopp’s account was biased by his financial interests in Bitcoin.
“He founded a company that is funded and supported by people who need small blocks and the Lightning Network,” Wright said. “The entire value of his company will go away if Bitcoin scales.”
Overall, Wright said that Lopp’s points were “basically fluff that have no weight whatsoever.”
Wright handwaved away accusations that he’d forged documents or submitted false evidence, dismissing discrepancies as the results of opening files in different versions of various software, an errant employee managing his blogs and sneaking in sentences without his knowledge, hacking or – as in the case of the controversial “Jean-Paul Sartre blog post,” in which Wright attempted to publicly “prove” he was Satoshi – that he didn’t actually want to prove anything and so bungled it on purpose.
“I have never changed any documents or manipulated any documents,” Wright said, when Manshaus asked him directly if the accusations had any truth. “No, I have never, ever in my life instructed a third party to manipulate or change documents.”
Wright denied he’d exaggerated his academic credentials (he claims to have at least “a couple” of PhDs): “If anything, I deflate my academic credentials, I’ve never told anyone how many I actually have.”
Responding to Lopp’s point that Wright had made earlier statements at odds with Satoshi’s quote that he was “better with code than with words,” Wright said: “I can write at a level that most people can’t understand, and I can code even better.”
Feeling misunderstood was a theme that emerged more than once during Wright’s testimony.
When talking about the overwhelming negative reaction to the Sartre blog post, Wright told the judge:
“I am too much of a smartass for my own good. I have figured out after this that practically no one in information technology knows who Sartre is, let alone that he turned down a Nobel prize, let alone that he was an existentialist.”
Manshaus also asked Wright to tell the court about the emotional impact of Hodlonaut’s tweets and the #CraigWrightIsAFraud hashtag.
Wright said that, prior to March 2019, he had no idea who Hodlonaut was.
“I don’t remember the exact time, I was at work at the time, and it was pointed out to me,” Wright testified. “My mother and other people had responded over Whatsapp asking why don’t I do something about these nasty people.”
Wright said he tried to do something – he complained to Twitter, which he said yielded no results except the eventual deletion of his account.
“Jack Dorsey is one of the funders of…Digital Currency Group, Jack Dorsey saw what was happening [on Twitter]…and closed down my account.” Wright added (DCG is the parent company of CoinDesk). A DCG official did not immediately return a request for comment or confirmation of the claim that Dorsey funds it in any way.
However, Wright told the court, before his account was deleted, he received an influx of nasty DMs, some threatening physical violence to his family. He said he’d never received DMs of such an aggressive nature before Hodlonaut’s March 2019 tweets (though later, in cross examination, he admitted he’d been sent similar DMs at least two years before – “I try not to remember them.”)
Manshaus asked Wright whether the prevalence of the #Faketoshi hashtag, which predated Hodlonaut’s tweets, as well as other bigger names in the crypto space calling Wright a scammer and a fraud meant that Hodlonaut’s tweets were okay.
“No,” Wright said. “If lots of people get behind a false idea, that doesn’t make it right. Lots of people supported Hitler and enabled him, that doesn’t make it right.”
At the end of Wright’s testimony, he complimented the judge on the style of Norwegian legal proceedings.
“I quite like the court process here. It’s much better than people interrupting in American courts and all that stuff,” Wright said, smiling.
Hodlonaut takes the stand
Hodlonaut also testified on Wednesday, taking roughly three hours on the stand to tell the court about his life and career, his history in the Bitcoin community, and his March 2019 tweets.
Speaking in Norwegian, Hodlonaut told the judge that, though he’d been interested in Bitcoin since 2013, he’d never cared much about the mystery of Satoshi’s identity.
“Personally, I’ve never worshiped Satoshi. I have an enormous respect for that person or persons that are behind the Satoshi Nakamoto name…It’s clear that Bitcoin was an attempt to separate banks from money…I greatly admired that,” Hodlonaut said. “I read articles by Satoshi. He came across as a humble, nice person that seemed to be very committed to his project.”
Hodlonaut told the judge that he first heard of Wright in 2015.
“It was at a conference that [cryptographer] Nick Szabo attended,” he said. “Craig Wright was on the stage all of a sudden with Nick Szabo…no one knew who Craig Wright was or how he ended up on the panel. He started to argue with Nick Szabo about something called Turing Completeness…it was very strange, I thought, that this person I didn’t know was [challenging] Nick Szabo.”
And then, Hodlonaut recounted, came articles about Wright, claiming he’d been doxxed as Satoshi Nakamoto.
When the judge interrupted Hodlonaut to ask the meaning of “doxxed,” Hodlonaut replied:
“It’s the same thing that happened to me. It’s when a person wants to be anonymous and personal details are published on the internet.” He paused for a moment, sighed, and added, “Yeah.”
Hodlonaut said he woke up on April 11, 2019, to an explosion of messages.
“I realized that they’d put out a sort of reward with my picture on this website, a picture of my arms with some tattoos – I have tattoos on my arms – and people were encouraged to search for the person with the tattoos,” he said. “It was very stressful. People were walking around Oslo looking for me.”
Later, Hodlonaut said he received a phone call from a private detective who’d gotten his name and phone number from an employee at his office whom the investigator had duped into believing he was a police officer.
Some time after the suit was filed, Hodlonaut told the court that the private investigator messaged him on Twitter to express remorse over his role in the doxxing.
“He called Craig a…” The translator for non-Norwegian speaking trial attendees struggled for words. “A dwarf-midget that he doesn’t really like.”
“No,” interjected another translator. “A gremlin.”
In response to questions from his attorney, Hodlonaut told the judge that he had read the articles in WIRED, Gizmodo, GQ and others “outing” Wright as Satoshi, as well as subsequent criticisms (from both media sources as well as social media posts) of the “proof” he offered.
Hodlonaut told the court he was basing his opinions on information from figures in the crypto community he trusted at the time, including Litecoin creator Charlie Lee and Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, both of whom also called Wright a fraud.
“There was a consensus, and there still is a consensus,” Hodlonaut told the judge, “that Craig Wright is a fraud.”
When asked why he decided to post the tweets attacking Wright in March 2019, he said it was partly related to the renewed attention to Wright and his claims to be Satoshi after the hard fork of Bitcoin Cash (which resulted in the creation of Bitcoin Satoshi’s Vision, Wright’s cryptocurrency) in late 2018.
“People were annoyed in crypto circles over Craig’s allegations. People felt that he was a fraud, and that he is a fraud, that’s why the word fraud was used,” Hodlonaut said. “There was a lot of annoyance, the vast majority [of people] were thinking ‘This is stupid…everyone knows what the truth is here.’ But that wasn’t the end of things.”
Hodlonaut told the judge he didn’t think his tweets would have much reach.
“The tweet I’m being sued for in the U.K…we can see [with a screenshot] that tweet, there were 12 people that liked it. One person retweeted it,” Hodlonaut said. “People were not very interested in this tweet.”
When he got the initial legal notice from Wright’s attorneys, Hodlonaut said he thought it was a joke at first.
“It was absolutely strange for me to think that I’d done anything that would lead to legal steps of the gravity that was outlined in that letter,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking ‘Yes! I have the opportunity to have my life turned upside down to be in a court case against someone who has a lot of money.’”
Haukaas asked if Hodlonaut ever considered Wright’s proposal for what the Australian described as an “amicable settlement,” which included deleting the tweets and issuing a statement (written by Wright’s lawyers) admitting that he believed Wright to be Satoshi.
“I can’t do that, I’m not willing to do that, because it is a lie,” Hodlonaut said. “I’m not willing to be in any way part of continuing something that I believe to be a fraud.”
Witness testimony is expected to continue through the end of the week.
Several witnesses, including Wright’s cousin, a former business associate, and an autism expert who diagnosed Wright with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are expected to testify on Wright’s behalf.
An expert from KPMG will appear on Friday to explain the findings of a report commissioned by Hodlonaut’s legal teams that is expected to show that Wright submitted falsified documents into evidence. He will have no other witnesses to support his case.