The computer scientist exposed for falsely claiming to be mysterious founder of Bitcoin

Craig Wright arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in February - Getty

With a purported IQ of 183, 14 masters degrees and at least two PhDs, Craig Wright certainly appeared to have enough intelligence to be the mythical founder of Bitcoin.

The computer scientist had readily admitted to being the real Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of the trillion-dollar cryptocurrency, after being uncovered by reporters nearly a decade ago.

And over the years, he had produced a wealth of evidence seemingly supporting his claim, from contemporaneous notes showing his intentions to set up the digital currency to, crucially, the private key that unlocks it.

But, now, the 53-year-old’s claims have finally, and conclusively, ruled to be what many in the crypto community had believed for years – nothing but complete bunkum.

Following a five-week trial in the High Court, Justice James Mellor concluded Wright had not only lied “extensively and repeatedly”, but also committed forgery “on a grand scale”.

“Dr. Wright presents himself as an extremely clever person,” the judge observed dryly in his scathing 231-page judgment. “However, in my judgment, he is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.”

The news was met with an overwhelming sense of relief within the crypto community, the majority of whom had been highly sceptical of Wright’s claims ever since they first emerged in 2015.

The abrasive Australian had spent years targeting doubters with expensive legal action, threatening to personally hunt them down “until they are broke, bankrupt and alone”.

Mystery identity

Ultimately however, it was this “arrogance” that led to his downfall, according to the judge, who said the real Satoshi would never have resorted to litigation.

The mystery identity of Bitcoin’s founder has confounded journalists and crypto enthusiasts alike ever since the cryptocurrency’s “white paper” was first published in 2008. The paper describes Bitcoin as “a peer-to-peer electronic cash system”, an “electronic coin” that would replace money transfers that are currently controlled by the financial system.

Going under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, the author of the white paper had exchanged hundreds of messages with collaborators – before suddenly cutting off communication in 2011.

Several claims to be the real Nakamoto emerged over the following years – only to be quickly discredited. That was until the name of Wright, a fairly unknown IT security consultant, emerged.

Operating on the margins of the crypto industry, the twice-married father of three from Brisbane, Australia, was “uncovered” by tech publications Wired and Gizmodo.

The evidence was based on leaked emails and transcripts, including one in which Wright said: “I did my best to try and hide the fact that I’ve been running Bitcoin since 2009.”

It may not have been a coincidence that Wright – who denies being behind the leak – had been orchestrating his own unveiling as Nakamoto at the time.

Mired in financial trouble and locked in disputes with the Australian tax office, he had agreed to sign over the “exclusive rights” to his life story as the creator of Bitcoin to a billionaire Canadian businessman, Calvin Ayre.

In return, he was loaned around £1.3 million to cover his tax problems – a lifeline at the time – and was made chief scientist of a new crypto company that was set to cash in on his name.

To prove his claim was genuine, his sponsors devised a plan for Wright to make the cryptographic proof public and end the mystery forever. But the big reveal never came.

Instead, he published a jargon-heavy blog post that was far away from meeting the burden of proof required. Some of the most trusted figures in Bitcoin, who had previously endorsed Wright, suggested they had been duped.

Legal battles

In the face of widespread rejection by members of the crypto community, however, a stubborn Wright simply doubled down – aggressively too.

On social media, he said he would launch a “Jihad” on doubters, boasting: “I am the punishment of god in cryptocurrency,” while expensive litigation, backed by Ayre, quickly became his weapon of choice.

In 2019, he further inflamed tensions among the crypto community by registering US copyright over both the Bitcoin white paper and code and his legal battles took him across multiple jurisdictions, from the US to Norway.

By 2021, an influential cabal of industry leaders decided enough was enough and formed the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA). Its mission statement was to share technology openly and “stand up to bullies like Wright”.

They filed a case in the UK High Court to “debunk Wright’s delusions of grandeur” and finally prove, once and for all, Wright was not Satoshi Nakamoto.

Over five weeks this Spring, Dr Wright was quizzed in minute detail over the 100 or so documents he claimed were proof he had written the white paper.

One key piece of “evidence” was a page of notes scribbled on a Quill pad dated August 2007. It summarised a meeting between  Wright and a colleague where they discussed a new form of digital currency, that would pass from person to person without an intermediary, alongside a list of follow-up steps that mentioned a “paper” set to be published in 2008.

Yet a sworn statement from Hamelin Brands, the parent company of Quill, revealed the pad hadn’t gone into circulation until 2012 – several years after Bitcoin was created.

In court,  Wright insisted the firm was mistaken. COPA’s lawyer replied: “Dr Wright, you are making this up as you go along.”

‘Lies and evasions’

To many who have investigated Wright over the years, his capacity to exaggerate the truth comes as no surprise. Even his mother has admitted Wright, who was brought up a catholic, had a “long-standing habit of adding bits on to the truth, just to make it bigger”.

The Scottish writer Andrew O’Hagan, who spent nearly nine months with Dr Wright in 2016, saw a similar trait. He wrote: ‘What his mother said connected with something I’d noticed. In what he said, he often went further than he needed to; further than he ought to have done. He appeared to start with the truth, and then, slowly, he would inflate his part until the whole story suddenly looked weak.’

Justice Mellor’s own assessment found: “As soon as one lie was exposed, Dr Wright resorted to further lies and evasions.” He concluded that as Wright faced greater and more significant challenges to his claim, he took his lies and forgery to ever greater levels.

Justice Mellor counted 47 forgeries in total, and suggested any attempts by Wright to explain them quickly turned into “technobabble”.

But it was Wright’s character that came in for the most stinging criticism, which he said was completely at odds with Nakomoto, whose writing and correspondence had been “calm, knowledgeable, collaborative, precise person with little or no arrogance”.

So where does this leave Wright – and will we ever find the real Satoshi Nakamoto?

Unsurprisingly, Wright has said he “fully intends” to appeal the ruling. But for the identity of Bitcoin’s creator, perhaps it closes the chapter for now.

Fundamental to Bitcoin is the idea that it is not owned by anyone, it is a decentralised currency that can’t be corrupted by human influence. What right has Wright, or anybody to claim it? And yet it is possible that the saga will do it no harm.

As Gavin Andresen, an American software developer key to the formation of Bitcoin, put it: “Having a mysterious founder is a great creation myth. People love a creation myth. Knowing the real story might make Bitcoin less interesting to people.”