Wednesday 21 February 2018

Has the mystery of who founded Bitcoin finally been solved?

Australian police at the home of Craig Steven Wright in Sydney. Photo: Reuters
Australian police at the home of Craig Steven Wright in Sydney. Photo: Reuters

Jonathan Pearlman in Sydney

In an unusual twist to one of the most enduring mysteries of the internet, a little-known 44-year-old Australian computing expert, who holds two PhDs and eight masters degrees, has been identified as the suspected mastermind behind the online currency Bitcoin.

The stunning claim has yet to be confirmed but - according to 'Wired' magazine - the founder of the cryptocurrency is Craig Steven Wright, a former academic and cryptologist who serves as a lay pastor.

Mr Wright, who apparently owns a large stash of Bitcoin and appears in his social media profile wearing a bow tie, could not be contacted yesterday and there was no sign of him at his modest suburban home.

He apparently has a wife and two children, drives expensive cars and keeps dogs and hens as pets. Some neighbours told local reporters he was planning to move to London in the coming weeks, which would fit with his claim that he is currently undertaking a ninth masters - in econometrics - at the University of London.

Public awareness of Bitcoin has never been higher, but few are aware that its origins are a mystery. A secretive programmer called 'Satoshi' invented the currency and still holds more than 4pc of all coins in existence.

Just hours after Mr Wright's identity was 'outed' by 'Wired' and the Gizmodo technology blog, police in Australia raided his home and office in Sydney, apparently as part of a tax investigation which is unrelated to the claim that he founded Bitcoin.

"The Australian Federal Police can confirm it has conducted search warrants to assist the Australian Taxation Office at a residence in Gordon (a suburb in Sydney's north) and a business premises in Ryde, Sydney," a police statement said.

"This matter is unrelated to recent media reporting regarding the digital currency Bitcoin."

Mr Wright is apparently an expert on Bitcoin and has amassed a sizable fortune of the virtual currency.

He was previously convicted of contempt of court more than a decade ago following a dispute with an investor and was sentenced to 28 days in prison.

The sentence was suspended and he was required to do 250 hours of community service.

Mr Wright told an online business magazine last year that he was planning to start the world's first Bitcoin bank through his company Hotwire, but the firm has reportedly gone into administration and is now in a fierce dispute with Australia's tax office over millions of dollars of disputed tax transactions.

Mr Wright has reportedly made public claims that he was the Bitcoin founder, who used the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto when publishing the currency's code in 2009.

The identity of the founder has been an enduring mystery and it is possible that the creator deliberately remained anonymous over concerns about the legality and uses of the cryptocurrency, which has long been favoured by criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

According to 'Wired', Mr Wright helped to develop Bitcoin with David Kleiman, an American computing expert who died in 2013.

The currency, whose total circulation is now valued at about $5bn (€4.5bn) has no central authority or government backer and is believed to have been extensively used by criminals worldwide.

The 'Wired' report cited a leaked communication from Mr Wright during a meeting last year with his lawyers and tax officials, saying: "I did my best to try and hide the fact that I've been running Bitcoin since 2009."

Other apparent evidence included a blog post by Mr Wright in 2008 outlining plans to release a "cryptocurrency paper" and his use of an online signature linked to Satoshi Nakamoto.

But 'Wired' admitted that its claim relied on unverified documents which could prove to be a hoax.

"Either Wright invented Bitcoin, or he's a brilliant hoaxer who very badly wants us to believe he did," said the magazine.

On his extensive LinkedIn profile, Mr Wright, a former lecturer at Australia's Charles Sturt University, claims to run numerous firms involving computing and alternative currencies.

He also says that he is a trustee and lay pastor of Australia's Uniting Church and a former chef who was trained in French cuisine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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