A seemingly run-of-the-mill trial is playing out in Florida: The family of a deceased man is suing his former business partner over control of their partnership’s assets.
In this case, the assets in question are a cache of about one million bitcoins, equivalent to around $64 billion today, belonging to bitcoin’s creator, the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto. The family of the dead man says he and his business partner together were Nakamoto, and thus the family is entitled to half of the fortune.
Who Satoshi Nakamoto is has been one of the financial world’s enduring mysteries. Does the name refer to one person? Or several? And why has he or she or they not touched a penny of that fortune?
The answers to those questions are at the center of the Florida dispute and of bitcoin itself. Bitcoin has become a trillion-dollar market, with tens of millions of investors. It has challenged governments trying to regulate it and has been endorsed by some. The technology behind it is seen by some as a way to rewire the global financial system. Yet, who created it and why has remained a mystery.
And that is all before you get to who controls one of the largest private fortunes in the world.
That is what a Florida jury will try to tackle. The family of David Kleiman is suing his former business partner, a 51-year-old Australian programmer living in London named Craig Wright. Kleiman died on April 26, 2013. Wright has been arguing since 2016 that he created bitcoin, a claim dismissed by most in the bitcoin community. Kleiman’s family argues that the two worked on and mined bitcoin together, entitling Kleiman’s family to half a million bitcoins.
“It is about two friends who had a partnership, and about how one of them tried to take everything for himself after the other died,” said Tibor Nagy, a lawyer for Kleiman’s family.
The defense said it has evidence that will show Wright is the creator of bitcoin and never included Kleiman. “We believe the court will find there’s nothing to indicate or record that they were in a partnership,” said Andrés Rivero, a lawyer for Wright.
For bitcoiners, there is only one piece of evidence that could conclusively prove the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto: the private key that controls the account where Nakamoto stored the one million bitcoins. Anyone claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto could show that he or she has them by moving even a fraction of a coin out of it.
The mystery of Satoshi Nakamoto is one of the curiosities of bitcoin. On Oct. 31, 2008, somebody using that name sent a nine-page paper to a group of cryptographers explaining a system of “electronic cash” that allowed people to exchange value without the need for a bank or other party. A few months later, the bitcoin network went live, and Nakamoto collected one million bitcoins in its first year.
It was earlier in 2008 that the family of Kleiman claims his business partner Wright asked for Kleiman’s help in what would become that nine-page paper. They collaborated on the white paper and launched bitcoin together, the suit alleges.