A computer scientist who claims to be the inventor of bitcoin has won a legal battle to keep hold of a hoard of the cryptocurrency worth tens of billions of dollars, despite not proving that he actually owns it.
A Florida jury found that Craig Wright did not owe half of 1.1 million BTC to the family of David Kleiman, Wright's one-time business partner.
Jurors took a full week to deliberate, repeatedly asking questions of lawyers on both sides as well as the judge on how cryptocurrencies work as well as the business relationship between the two men.
At the centre of the trial are 1.1 million bitcoins, worth approximately $50 billion based on current prices. These were among the first units of the cryptocurrency to be created through mining and could only be owned by a person or entity involved with the digital currency from its beginning.
Bitcoin’s origins have always been a bit of a mystery, which is why this trial has drawn so much attention from outsiders. In October 2008 during the height of the financial crisis, a person named “Satoshi Nakamoto” published a paper laying out a framework for a digital currency that would not be tied to any legal or sovereign authority. Mining for the currency began a few months later.
The name Nakamoto, roughly translated from Japanese to mean “at the centre of,” was never considered to be the real name of bitcoin’s creator. Some in the cryptocurrency community do not even believe Nakamoto was a single individual.
Wright has claimed since 2016 that he is Nakamoto, a claim that has been met with heavy scepticism from a sizeable portion of the crypto community. Due to its structure, all transactions of bitcoin are public and the 1.1 million bitcoins in question have remained untouched since Wright’s big reveal. Members of the bitcoin community have regularly called for Wright to move just a fraction of the coins into a separate account to prove that he truly is as wealthy as he claims.
If he did control the fortune, Wright would be among the top 30 wealthiest people in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.
David Kleiman died in April 2013. Led by his brother Ira Kleiman, his family has claimed David Kleiman and Wright were close friends and co-created bitcoin through a partnership. Kleiman’s estate was suing for half of the bitcoins in question as well as intellectual property rights.
Wright’s lawyers have said repeatedly that David Kleiman and Wright were friends and collaborated on work together, but their partnership had nothing to do with bitcoin’s creation or early operation.
Wright has said he plans to donate much of the bitcoin fortune to charity if he were to win at trial, though he is still yet to prove that he actually controls it.
As part of the ruling, Wright was ordered to pay the family of Kleiman $100m for intellectual property infringement.
Additional reporting from agencies
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