OSLO, Norway — Expert witnesses in the ongoing trial between crypto Twitter personality Hodlonaut and Craig Wright – the Australian computer scientist who has long claimed (and failed to prove) he is the inventor of Bitcoin – told the court on Thursday that Wright could have used any number of tricks to fool Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen into believing he was Satoshi during a private “signing session” in 2016.
Andresen has since all but denounced Wright, saying he had “bamboozled” him with “funky proof” on that day in 2016. Andresen’s faith in Wright’s identity as Satoshi has been a cornerstone of Wright’s defense in his trial against Hodlonaut (real name Magnus Granath), one of two simultaneous legal battles between the two men over a series of tweets in March 2019 in which Hodlonaut deemed Wright a pretender, and called him a “scammer” and a “fraud.”
Hodlonaut sued Wright in Norway to get a judge to rule that his tweets were protected by freedom of speech – and prevent a libel case filed by Wright in the U.K. seeking financial damages in connection to the tweets from moving forward.
During his testimony on Wednesday, Wright told Norwegian District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen that he would not be providing any cryptographic proof of his identity as Satoshi Nakamoto, claiming that he not only didn’t want to, but that doing so would be “incredibly difficult” after he destroyed the hard drive containing his private keys to Satoshi’s wallets after his signing session with Andresen.
Instead, his defense has taken a new angle: Proof, Wright says, isn’t demonstrating ownership of Satoshi’s wallet (a move that would silence most of Wright’s doubters) – “proof is people.”
Wright previously told the court that his ability to convince Andresen that he was Satoshi by allegedly using the private keys in front of him in 2016 was enough to prove his identity to others.
Attorneys for Hodlonaut brought in three expert witnesses who testified that cryptographic proof – not personal testimony – could alone prove Wright’s claims. They also explained how that could be done.
Johan Toras Halseth, the tech director of Norwegian crypto exchange Firi, told the court that it would have been possible for Wright to organize the private signing session with Andresen in a way that made it possible for him to deceive the Bitcoin developer.
Halseth said he first heard about Wright when the Wired magazine article “outing” him as Satoshi came out.
“The alarm went off in me, personally,” Halseth said. “It appeared to be an unnatural way to come out. … I became very, very skeptical.”
He said the private signing session, which he described as “a farce,” made him even more suspicious of Wright’s claims: “A technical person would have never proved something that way. A private session doesn’t make sense [when] it is easily done publicly.”
Halseth explained that if Wright controlled the Wi-Fi used during the signing session – either by gaining control of the hotel Wi-Fi or surreptitiously connecting the new laptop used for the session to an alternative Wi-Fi controlled by Wright – he could have swapped the real Electrum wallet file for a modified version.
A modified version of the wallet, Halseth said, could be manipulated to make it able to verify bogus signatures.
“The wallet is built from a source code … [T]he person who built the wallet is basically the one who is in control and can do whatever they want with the wallet,” he explained. “It’s really easy to modify the wallet in that sense.”
Halseth also went line by line through Wright’s controversial “Jean-Paul Sartre blog post,” in which Wright attempted to publicly “prove” he was Satoshi (proof which has been widely discredited) and explained its technological failings to the judge.
“It doesn’t make sense, technically speaking,” Halseth said. “Had it been technically sound, he would have attached the actual message that was verified. That’s not done here.”
“It’s very clear that he was trying to do something that is very technically simple in a very complicated way, to maybe mislead,” Halseth told the judge.
A climate of doubt around Wright’s claims
The other witnesses for Hodlonaut, Arcane Crypto CEO Torbjørn Bull Jenssen and Svein Ølnes, a professor and researcher at the Western Norwegian Research Institute, testified about a climate of doubt surrounding Wright’s claims to be Satoshi.
Jenssen recounted for the court his impressions of Wright after his “outing” as Satoshi by Wired in late 2015.
He said he didn’t have any conclusive thoughts – and, at first, thought Wright’s claims were plausible – but when a lot of the evidence was revealed to be changed or otherwise manipulated, Jenssen said he became suspicious.
“It was fishy,” he told the judge.
In his own testimony, Ølnes expressed similar sentiments.
“My first thought was this is so far from the Satoshi that I had imagined,” he said.
“The general perception is that this person is not Satoshi. I share that perception. The more I’ve read and seen, the more clear it becomes to me that it’s impossible that he is Satoshi … [A]ll the developments we’ve had in this case, it cannot be the case that he is Satoshi.”
In addition to what he saw as phony evidence, both in the private signings and the later “Sartre” post, Jenssen felt like Wright’s “breach of character” – using his “authority to change Bitcoin,” trying to get the copyright for the Bitcoin white paper and his string of lawsuits – made him unlikely to be Satoshi.
“The use of financial strength to sue and threaten others that have different opinions – that’s not in line with a free system,” Jenssen said.
KPMG lays out a pattern of fraud and deceit
Two Norwegian experts from the multinational auditing firm KPMG testified on Friday about a highly technical report commissioned by Hodlonaut’s attorneys showing inconsistencies and manipulation in the evidence submitted by Wright.
The KPMG representatives explained to the judge that there were numerous inconsistencies in the metadata for the evidence Wright submitted that could not be explained, as Wright had previously suggested, by opening documents in different versions of the same software or other normal scenarios.
The experts spent a significant amount of time reviewing discrepancies in fonts in Wright’s documents – including the use of fonts that were not released until after the alleged metadata date of several of the documents – to indicate that Wright has a pattern of backdating and otherwise manipulating evidence.
It is not the first time that Wright’s alleged document manipulation has come up in court.
The experts also went over several emails submitted by Wright in the Kleiman case including emails that purported to be from 2008 but were actually created years later, in 2014, after Wright was allegedly preparing to style himself as Satoshi.
The proof is in the … people?
Wright’s side, on the other hand, put forward no new technical evidence today. Instead, his defense leaned heavily on witness testimony from his friends, family and former colleagues who described their relationships with him around the time he was supposedly writing the Bitcoin white paper.
Stefan Matthews, a long-time collaborator of Wright’s and the current chairman of the board of one of Wright’s companies, detailed his nearly 20-year-long relationship with Wright.
Matthews described Wright, who he met when the latter was working as an auditor for Matthews’ company, as a tech wizard with poor social skills.
“Incredibly proficient, knowledgeable, capable … he was held as a clear expert, no doubt about that,” Matthews said. Wright’s interpersonal skills were “a little different.”
Matthews testified on Thursday that Wright had begun talking to him in 2007 about “a whole raft of ideas” he was working on related to digital cash, and gave him an early iteration of the Bitcoin white paper in 2008.
Aside from Matthews, none of Wright’s other witnesses ever claimed to see an early draft of the Bitcoin white paper, instead basing their belief in his claims to be Satoshi on their knowledge of Wright’s skills and interests.
“From my experience in seeing Craig work within the IT systems … it was certainly a high probability that he would be able to do what he was claiming to do with Bitcoin and blockchain technology,” Neville Sinclair, a chartered accountant who first met Wright around 2006 when they were both colleagues at BDO, told the court.
But Sinclair added that he’d only heard Wright refer directly to the cryptocurrency after Nakamoto’s invention had hit the mainstream. “I think around 2011. … [T]hat was about the first time that I had heard him talk to me about Bitcoin,” Sinclair said.
Wright’s cousin, Maxwell Lynam, was equally effusive about his claims to have launched the Web3 revolution.
“We’d always known that Craig was the chief engineer and person who did Bitcoin and blockchain technology,” Lynam told the court, adding that he personally had never read the published white paper. “I don’t know why everyone’s upset about him calling himself Satoshi. He could be Bob.”
Lynam also said that Wright had also secretly set up a home computer to continuously mine bitcoin, and only revealed this fact after the aging hardware had been sent to a landfill site by his unwitting family. Wright estimated that the computer would have mined about 6,500 BTC by this time, Lynam said – cryptocurrency that at today’s prices would be worth around $130 million.
More witnesses will testify on Wright’s behalf next week.
Catch up on the trial so far: