Bitcoin ‘creator’ Satoshi Nakamoto tracked down, but says story has no currency
Mysterious creator of the controversial cryptocurrency may not have been unmasked after all
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Friday 07 March 2014
Until Thursday morning, 64-year-old Dorian Nakamoto, a Japanese-American former engineer, had been living in relative peace in Temple City, just east of Los Angeles. That’s when Newsweek magazine published a story claiming that he is, in fact, Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious, multimillionaire creator of the controversial cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
After the story appeared online, reporters from as far afield as Japan descended on Mr Nakamoto’s two-storey suburban home, demanding to know whether it was true.
Mr Nakamoto, whose middle name is Satoshi, finally emerged from the house and denied any involvement with Bitcoin. He said he would give an interview to one reporter, preferably someone who spoke Japanese, then hopped into a car with a journalist from the Associated Press, with the rest of the press in hot pursuit.
Newsweek’s 4,500-word piece, supposedly unmasking Mr Nakamoto as the coder who came up with Bitcoin, is the cover story of the magazine’s relaunched print edition and comes 15 months after it was pulled from news-stands and sold to new owners.
The article included a photograph of Mr Nakamoto and a brief exchange in which he apparently told the reporter Leah McGrath Goodman that he was no longer involved with Bitcoin. In his subsequent interview with AP, however, Mr Nakamoto denied he had ever been connected to the online currency.
Bitcoin was born in 2009 and has grown increasingly popular as a means of transferring funds across borders anonymously, independent of banks and governments. Yet it also faces criticism for facilitating criminal transactions, and for its wild instability.
In December, a single Bitcoin was worth $1,200 (£720); by this week, it was worth a little over half that amount. Last week the Bitcoin exchange, Mt Gox, filed for bankruptcy after losing 750,000 Bitcoins to hackers. On Wednesday, another smaller exchange, Flexcoin, also shut down after being robbed by hackers.
Yet throughout the digital currency’s life, its creator’s identity has remained a riddle. Until this week, most believed the online name “Satoshi Nakamoto” was a pseudonym. The real Mr Nakamoto insisted that, while his birth name was Satoshi, he had never heard of Bitcoin until his son was contacted by Newsweek three weeks ago. “I’ve got nothing to do with it,” he said.
Mr Nakamoto moved to the US from Japan when he was 10 years old, but his English remains imperfect. In the exchange reported by Ms Goodman, he said: “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it.”
Newsweek took this to mean that he was no longer involved in Bitcoin, but Mr Nakamoto now claims that he meant he was no longer in engineering. He says he could not discuss it because some of the work he did for the US Navy, Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration is confidential.
Newsweek, which estimates the Bitcoin creator’s wealth at $400m (£240m), is standing by its story. Ms Goodman, who spent two months researching the article, told AP: “There was no confusion whatsoever about the context of our conversation – and his acknowledgment of his involvement in Bitcoin.”
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