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Living quietly in a Surrey village, is this really the man who invented Bitcoin?

Dec 13, 2021

The leafy lane is regularly described as one of the most expensive addresses in Britain, a Home Counties idyll where Premier League footballers now threaten the commuter-belt ascendancy of stockbrokers and other City types.

The new-build mini-mansions and more established hacienda-style homes in the 'Beverly Hills' of Surrey are a far cry from Craig Wright's urban, subtropical upbringing in Australia.

There, as a troubled but intellectually precocious four-year old, he was regularly 'whacked' by his father, a military veteran who had fought in the Vietnam War, if he made a 'wrong' move in one of their games of chess.

Life has changed dramatically for the controversial, combative and, above all, mysterious Dr Wright LLM PhD.

Why mysterious? Because Wright, 51, is said — not least by himself — to be the real identity of 'Satoshi Nakamoto', the pseudonymous 'Japanese cypherpunk' whose genius heralded a new era in the global movement of money via digital technology.

Mystery man: Dr Craig Wright, (pictured) ruled by a US court to be the creator of Bitcoin

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Mystery man: Dr Craig Wright, (pictured) ruled by a US court to be the creator of Bitcoin

It was Nakamoto who, in 2008, wrote a groundbreaking academic paper entitled 'Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system' which has been called 'the most important [scientific] paper of the 21st century'.

Yet soon afterwards and without ever having made a public appearance, 'Satoshi' issued an online goodbye to the world and disappeared without trace.

If the Australian is indeed Satoshi — and there are many who decry him as a 'fake' — he must also be regarded as the father of bitcoin, the cryptocurrency or digital currency, which has rocketed in value from a few cents when it was launched 13 years ago to a record high of more than $68,000 (£51,000) last month. As such, Dr Wright is also likely to be 'one of the 25 richest men in the world'.

That makes his decision — suggested by legal documents seen by the Mail — to relocate to a mere millionaires' row in Cobham a matter of modesty rather than conspicuous consumption. The Bitcoin economy he apparently created, and in which he is said to retain a considerable stake, is now worth billions if not trillions of pounds.

Until quite recently, bitcoin and cryptocurrencies were still seen as a geeky activity on the fringe of the financial markets. But now they have taken off.

A recent survey found that most financial tech specialists believe bitcoin will surpass money issued by central banks as the dominant form of finance worldwide in less than 30 years.

China is so suspicious of cryptocurrencies, it has banned people from trading in them. And last month, former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton warned that their rise could undermine the U.S. dollar's status as the world's reserve currency.

That makes his decision — suggested by legal documents seen by the Mail — to relocate to a mere millionaires' row in Cobham (pixtured) a matter of modesty rather than conspicuous consumption

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That makes his decision — suggested by legal documents seen by the Mail — to relocate to a mere millionaires' row in Cobham (pixtured) a matter of modesty rather than conspicuous consumption

In contrast, El Salvador, in Central America, has adopted bitcoin as a national currency, while Fortune magazine reports that teenagers are trading in it regularly, and many are making tens of thousands doing so.

Six years have passed since Craig Wright was first 'unmasked' as Satoshi Nakamoto by investigative journalists in Australia, and last week his story reached another landmark when a federal jury in Miami effectively found in his favour in what has been described as the 'bitcoin trial of the century'.

The civil case had been brought against Wright, a twice-married father of three, on behalf of the estate of his late best friend Dave Kleiman, a paraplegic U.S. Army veteran and computer forensics expert he had met online.

Kleiman, who died aged 46 in 2013, was a fellow cryptographer — someone involved in 'the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of adversarial behavior'.

Both sides came to court with the understanding that Wright was Satoshi Nakamoto and had created bitcoin. What the plaintiff alleged was that Kleiman had been Wright's business partner and bitcoin co-creator, so his estate, represented by Kleiman's sister Ira, was owed a share in a trove of 1.1 million bitcoins worth $36 billion.

Wright denied Kleiman was anything but his best friend. He had helped him edit the famous Satoshi paper, yet provided no other input.

During the hearing, Wright gave evidence over four days, which shone an uncomfortable light on his unhappy past and complex personality. But he declared he had won, although observers might feel he took a pretty big hit.

During the hearing, Wright gave evidence over four days, which shone an uncomfortable light on his unhappy past and complex personality (stock image)

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During the hearing, Wright gave evidence over four days, which shone an uncomfortable light on his unhappy past and complex personality (stock image)

The judge ruled against Kleiman having been Wright's business partner. But he ordered Wright to pay $100 million in compensation to the Kleiman estate after the jury found him liable for 'conversion' — a legal term for making use of something that is not yours.

'I feel remarkably happy and vindicated,' Wright said afterwards. 'I am not a fraud and I never have been.'

He claimed he had offered Kleiman's estate 'twelve million many years ago, which if he had taken that then in bitcoin, when bitcoin was [worth] $200, and kept it — you can do the maths.'

The eye-watering 'maths' is this: each bitcoin is now worth around £38,000. Wright's implication is that by not accepting his original offer, Kleiman's estate has lost out on about £2.3 billion.

What the Florida court case has done, though, is bring what has been called 'the greatest mystery in tech' to a wider audience who have read about bitcoin or even invested in it, but were unaware of the claims and counter-claims over its creation.

The eye-watering 'maths' is this: each bitcoin is now worth around £38,000 (file image)

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The eye-watering 'maths' is this: each bitcoin is now worth around £38,000 (file image)

So who is Craig Wright, why has he chosen to make his home in Britain (where he harbours ambitions to be a magistrate, apparently), and what more do we know about him since the Kleiman trial?

Wright was born in Brisbane and during the trial he described how, after his parents' marriage failed, he grew up with a 'single mother working three jobs'. As a result, he valued hard work.

His counsel told the court that Wright came from 'a very difficult home', had 'very few friends in his childhood' and 'was considered strange . . . even by his sister'.

'At 13, he wore a ninja outfit to a playground and all the other kids called him a freak,' the court heard.

Indeed, several years ago his mother spoke to the British writer Andrew O'Hagan about her son's teenage obsession with Japanese culture.

'He was different,' she said. 'He used to dress up . . . in samurai clothes, with the odd wooden shoes and everything. Making all the noises. His sisters would complain about him embarrassing them. He used to have this group of nerdy friends in the 1980s: they'd come around in horn-rimmed glasses and play Dungeons Dragons for hours.'

Wright was born in Brisbane and during the trial he described how, after his parents' marriage failed, he grew up with a 'single mother working three jobs'. As a result, he valued hard work. Pictured: File image of the Bitcoin Bankathon

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Wright was born in Brisbane and during the trial he described how, after his parents' marriage failed, he grew up with a 'single mother working three jobs'. As a result, he valued hard work. Pictured: File image of the Bitcoin Bankathon

The Florida court also heard that Wright has recently been diagnosed with autism.

'Dr Wright has a lifelong pattern of becoming obsessed about specific areas of interest as a coping style,' according to one specialist. 'He ended up alienating his peers and was mercilessly bullied, ridiculed and ostracised.'

Wright joined the Royal Australian Air Force aged 18, where he worked on computer coding. He later studied computer science at university and has been pursuing various higher academic qualifications ever since.

'On a good day, I have written the equivalent of a Master's thesis,' Wright told the court. 'I'm enrolled in 19 different universities; one of them is Harvard . . . I actually wrote three [academic] papers last night.'

He also found time to marry, twice. His first wife, Lynn, was a Canadian nurse almost 20 years his senior, whom he met online. He proposed to her within six weeks.

Wright joined the Royal Australian Air Force aged 18, where he worked on computer coding (stock image)

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Wright joined the Royal Australian Air Force aged 18, where he worked on computer coding (stock image)

He met his current wife, Ramona, in 2010. At first they were 'business associates' but their relationship deepened and they married in 2013. By then, bitcoin was entering the mainstream.

Five years earlier, on October 31, 2008, with the world in financial meltdown, an academic paper was published online under the authorship of one Satoshi Nakamoto, of whom no one had previously heard.

The paper describing bitcoin was circulated among a small group of cryptographers. It set out how a 'decentralised, non-sovereign and exclusively digital currency could be created and distributed'.

This would be done through a process called 'mining' and involved computers solving 'a series of linked mathematical puzzles' created by an algorithm which was the work of Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoins were awarded to whoever solved the problems first.

It sounds complicated — and it is. But you don't need to understand the nuts and bolts of bitcoin to appreciate the achievement in its creation, nor the impact it has had.

The following year, 'Satoshi' put his theory into practice by 'mining' the first block of his network. Cryptographers followed suit — as did criminals, who valued the essential anonymity of financial transfers using bitcoin. Pictured: File image of the Bitcoin Bankathon

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The following year, 'Satoshi' put his theory into practice by 'mining' the first block of his network. Cryptographers followed suit — as did criminals, who valued the essential anonymity of financial transfers using bitcoin. Pictured: File image of the Bitcoin Bankathon

The following year, 'Satoshi' put his theory into practice by 'mining' the first block of his network. Cryptographers followed suit — as did criminals, who valued the essential anonymity of financial transfers using bitcoin.

But by April 2011, it seemed 'Satoshi' had become bored or disillusioned with his creation. He (or she) sent a cryptic message — 'I've moved on to other things' — and signed off for ever.

But Satoshi Nakamoto's disappearance didn't lessen interest in either bitcoin or the true identity of its creator. As the bitcoin network expanded and the cryptocurrency's value fluctuated wildly, interest intensified.

Several names were put forward and rejected. Then, in 2015, two publications identified — through leaked documents — an obscure Australian computer security expert and university lecturer: Dr Craig Wright.

Almost simultaneously, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) swooped on his last known home, a rented bungalow in Sydney, and a city centre office. It has been claimed that the ATO had been in a long-running 'conversation' with Wright about bitcoin. It seemed their knowledge of how it worked and how it could be taxed were limited.

But Wright, who denies any wrongdoing, was one step ahead. He was already on his way to a new life in England, initially settling in London.

But Wright, who denies any wrongdoing, was one step ahead. He was already on his way to a new life in England, initially settling in London (stock image)

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But Wright, who denies any wrongdoing, was one step ahead. He was already on his way to a new life in England, initially settling in London (stock image)

It was in an American TV interview the following year that he declared himself to be Satoshi Nakamoto — but, far from being hailed as a genius, Wright found himself the object of ridicule and disbelief in many quarters of the cryptographic community. They simply did not believe him. Or didn't want to.

Technical proofs that he offered up to support his 'I am Satoshi' claim were pooh-poohed as fraudulent. And although he has registered himself as Satoshi Nakamoto at the U.S. Copyright Office, he has, as yet, been unable to provide a compelling 'water-into-wine' proof to silence the naysayers.

One such would be to demonstrate his ability to control the original 'genesis' block of the bitcoin network. He has said in a blog that he 'did not have the courage' to provide the evidence. The reasons for this remain obscure.

Wright has not taken this criticism lightly. One person who worked with him shortly after he arrived in the UK told the Mail: 'He is one of the most compelling and unsettling human beings I have ever met. I wouldn't like to cross him. You feel he would come after you.'

Technical proofs that he offered up to support his 'I am Satoshi' claim were pooh-poohed as fraudulent. Pictured: An NFT sporting event recently

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Technical proofs that he offered up to support his 'I am Satoshi' claim were pooh-poohed as fraudulent. Pictured: An NFT sporting event recently 

And come after his enemies he has. Wright, who since 2017 has held Antigua and Barbudan citizenship and wants to be naturalised in the UK, is a litigious pitbull, pursuing actions against those who have called him 'fake'.

In one libel case this year, against a bitcoin blogger, Wright's legal team claimed he was pursuing the action in part because allegations of dishonesty have 'made it more difficult for him to achieve his ambition of becoming a magistrate in Surrey'.

Last night, Dr Wright took part in an emailed question-and-answer session with me.

Asked about his interests outside cryptocurrency, he replied: 'I am committed to my work on bitcoin, the peer-to-peer digital cash system I invented and that, along with my family, occupies most of my time. In the spare time I do have, my interests are many and varied — everything from medieval documents to philosophy.'

He said he loved British culture, especially theatre. He had chosen the south of England to settle in, rather than Edinburgh, 'because my wife does not like the cold'.

Last night, Dr Wright took part in an emailed question-and-answer session with me. Pictured: A group at an NFT sporting event hosted by Bitcoin Latinum and TapStats

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Last night, Dr Wright took part in an emailed question-and-answer session with me. Pictured: A group at an NFT sporting event hosted by Bitcoin Latinum and TapStats

Of his legal actions, he said: 'I never wanted to be a public figure and my identity as the creator of bitcoin only became known when I was outed by other people. Those who have taken my invention and corrupted it need to be held to account within the law — bitcoin was designed to operate within the legal system and if, in order to regain control, I have to continue to pursue legal action, I will.

'I am a big believer in something called conscientious capitalism and my goal now is to work with the people on the bottom rung, the people earning just $2 or $3 a day, and enable them, through the use of the bitcoin digital cash system, to build up their livelihood.'

He added that he had established a family trust which he hoped would help the poorest in society.

Dr Wright predicted that in 50 years' time, bitcoin 'and blockchain technology will have replaced the internet and all traditional finance systems'. And he would 'retire happy' if and when five billion people were using bitcoin on a daily basis.

Before that, he has other reputational battles to fight. In April this year, in the High Court in London, Dr Wright began a copyright infringement lawsuit to stop a website publishing the original Satoshi Nakamoto white paper.

If it goes ahead, the case will hinge on who wrote the paper. In other words, can Dr Wright prove once and for all that he is Satoshi? That the Australian kid who pretended to be a samurai became the man who adopted a Japanese persona to launch an idea that changed the world?

Unless and until he does, 'the greatest mystery in tech' awaits a definitive explanation.

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