Bitcoiner and Twitter personality Hodlonaut and the Australian businessman Craig Wright have just concluded a seven day trial in Oslo, Norway. Wright has long claimed to be the pseudonymous founder of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto.
The trial was intended to decide whether Hodlonaut’s tweets from March 2019, in which he referred to Wright as a fraud and a scammer, were protected by Norway’s freedom of speech laws.
Wright’s assertions that he is Satoshi have received considerable criticism in the past and Hodlonaut is not the only individual to question these claims. This is partly because Wright has been unable or unwilling to provide convincing evidence that he is Satoshi.
Hodlonaut is also not the only person to suffer legal consequences for criticizing Wright. His libel case against podcaster Peter McCormack, who dubbed Wright a liar and a fraud in 2019, reached a verdict last month.
Despite a British court finding that McCormack’s remarks caused Wright’s reputation “serious harm,” Wright was nevertheless fined for providing the Court with “deliberately false evidence.” Wright was awarded £1 for ‘nominal damages’ in the libel case.
The Hodlonaut Versus Craig Wright Trial was covered extensively by Head of Bitcoin Magazine Studios Millsonaut, also known as @SpecificMills on Twitter.
Below are the highlights for each day of the trial:
Several tweets made by Hodlonaut from 2019 claimed that Craig Wright is a fake and Wright asked that the tweets be removed along with a statement confirming that he is Satoshi. The tweets were removed but no statement was made by Hodlonaut that Wright is the true creator of Bitcoin.
Millsonaut clarifies that the purpose of this trial is to determine the degree of damage caused by Hodlonaut’s tweets and is not meant to determine whether Wright is or is not Satoshi.
After covering a brief timeline of evidence against Craig Wright’s assertion to be Satoshi, Hodlonaut’s lawyer went on to discuss trusts, keys, and hash. The judge admits that she does not have a full understanding of how hash functions operate.
The rest of the day, the trial went over U.S. Copyright, b-money invention dates that do not align with Wright’s claimed Bitcoin Whitepaper authorship period, date discrepancies with Wright sending his Bitcoin to the Panama trust (The Morgan), and how the Australian Tax Office (ATO) fined Wright two million AUD over tax refund complications.
One of Hodlonaut’s other lawyers read aloud numerous tweets from the community calling Wright a fraud or faketoshi.
A tweet from Wright was also included where he stated “to HODL is a scam.” The lawyer suggested this statement is quite an assertion from the presumable holder of over one million Bitcoin.
The second day of the trial mainly involves Wright’s lawyer setting the stage for why Wright views himself as the creator of Bitcoin.
Wright’s lawyer outlines the differences between freedom of speech and the responsibility for what is said. He goes on to explain that the goal of freedom of speech is that it should be used for pursuing truth and facilitating debate. The lawyer adds that this case is less about legal issues and more about how the law is interpreted.
Wright’s lawyer states that Craig Wright views BSV as “pure and in line with the Whitepaper.”
Many tweets with the ‘#CraigWrightIsAFraud’ hashtag are read aloud to demonstrate how “rabid and toxic” Bitcoin maximalists are on the internet. A “Bitcoin Plebs” Telegram group is also mentioned for calling BSV people “shitcoiners and scammers.”
Millsonaut tweeted Wright’s curious origin story for the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym.
During the last half of the session, Wright’s lawyer presents the argument that Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen would have realized Wright was not Satoshi based on the exchanges they have had in 2016.
Wright’s lawyer moves on to explain that Wright is not “the Satoshi the people want and that even if he could prove he is Satoshi, people would not claim him as their Satoshi.”
Hodlonaut’s attorneys informed the court during their opening remarks on Monday that they had hired multinational auditing firm KPMG to authenticate Wright’s presented evidence. The report was anticipated to demonstrate that many of the documents submitted by Wright are either falsified or modified.
Although the 73 documents’ contents have not yet been made public, Wright’s attorneys told the court that there are legitimate explanations for why documents might appear to have been altered (such as when they are opened in two different versions of Microsoft Word).
However, Millsonaut points out in her Twitter thread that Wright admitted that some of the documents are fraudulent.
On day three of the trial Hodlonaut took the stand to answer questions from both teams of lawyers. After discussing his journey into discovering Bitcoin and the timeline for when he joined Twitter, Hodlonaut explained that the general consensus in 2018 was that Wright was not the inventor of Bitcoin.
Questioning from Hodlonaut’s lawyers ended with going through the timeline of legal proceedings, a brief explanation of what it means to be a “Bitcoin maximalist,” and how the term was initially an insult but embraced by the community.
“Toxicity is a form of brutal honesty - not accepting any compromise,” said Hodlonaut.
Wright’s lawyer, Halvor Manshaus, went on to ask Hodlonaut about the hashtag #CraigWrightIsAFraud and the tone that was used to convey these tweets.
Millsonaut points out that Manshaus brought up a number of Wright’s tweets that support mainstream and current issues to discredit Hodlonaut’s character because he did not state his opinion about them via Twitter.
In early April of 2019, the #WeAreAllHodlonaut campaign was initiated by Bitcoin groups on Twitter, Telegram, and other platforms in order to help conceal Hodlonaut’s true identity from being released by Wright and the BSV community.
The judge brought up the fact that Hodlonaut was also defamed during this period by being called a troll.
Wright takes the stand and is asked about how these tweets have affected his mental health. Wright cites tweets that bring up threats and physical harm to himself, however none of these tweets were from Hodlonaut.
Wright claims that if Hodlonaut had first initiated a discussion, then an agreement may have resolved this issue without it developing much larger than intended. Questioning from Manshaus continued with discussing Wright’s background, family relationships, early interest in coding, Japanese culture, and his work experience.
After reviewing some of Wright’s personal documents on Bitcoin with handwritten dates, Wright added that “I have never changed or manipulated any documents nor have I ever instructed a third party to change documents on my behalf.”
After a brief break, one of Hodlonaut’s lawyers brought up Wright’s previous contempt of court conviction but Wright explained that it is not considered a criminal offense in Australia and he was able to fulfill his community service.
The lawyer then asked if any of the emails, files, or documents from Wright were real or manipulated. Wright responded “yes, there are some real documents.”
Wright was then asked if he had access at any point in time to the private keys for Satoshi’s Bitcoin and he responded, “yes, I created the algorithm.” However, Wright also stated that he no longer has access to the private keys associated with addresses in question.
Wright said he “stomped on the hard drive” that held the “key slices” necessary to give him access to Satoshi’s private keys, making it “incredibly difficult” to cryptographically demonstrate his claim to be the originator of Bitcoin, a claim he has made but been unable to verify since 2016.
Millsonaut explains that Wright went into a rant about how Bitcoin is not encrypted and how Bitcoin can be seized, frozen, and can be accessed under court order. Wright adds that he will not be decrypting the private keys to do a signing that would ultimately prove he is Satoshi because he states that the emails between himself and Andresen are sufficient.
In order to avoid authenticating his identity cryptographically, something Wright said he “refused” to do because it would provide his detractors with “the easy way out,” destroying the hard drive was “the only solution,” he told the court.
When questioned about whether he intentionally destroyed the hard drive by Hodlonaut’s attorney, Ørjan Haukaas, Wright said “I didn’t want to encourage the arguments that you need keys.” He added “yes, you could say this is a risk, but I think it’s the most important thing I’ve done in my life.”
Wright informed the court that a minor issue like not possessing Satoshi’s keys would not prevent him from getting Satoshi's coins.
Bitcoin is like a paper ledger. If you make a mistake in an accounting ledger, you can always update it … [A]ny alteration including having a court order that reassigns Bitcoin can always be done, but it has to be a public thing such as a court order.
Such a court ruling would not only be technically impossible to accomplish given the way the Bitcoin network functions, but also be impossible to enforce given the way the law now stands. Using the private keys Wright claims to have destroyed would be the only other method for moving the coins.
The judge concluded the session by asking Wright why the proofing session with Andresen was more emotionally difficult rather than documenting (signing with the private keys) to verify that he is Satoshi. He answered that “it’s not emotionally difficult - well, now it isn’t - but it’s harder to do. Chasing down witnesses…”
Day four of the trial saw its first day of witnesses to testify for Hodlonaut and Wright.
CEO of Arcane Crypto Torbjørn Bull Jenssen and Johan Halseth who works at Firi (a popular cryptocurrency exchange in Norway and Denmark) were brought up to be questioned.
Hodlonaut’s attorney Haukaas asked Halseth if it is difficult to set up a Bitcoin wallet to always accept a message that ends with Craig Wright’s name (or his CSW initials). Halseth responded that the process is “very easy” to modify the wallet to accept a message with Wright’s name or initials.
Svein Ølnes is a Bitcoin-focused researcher who was then brought in to be questioned. Haukaas asked if he could recall when Wright came forward as the inventor of Bitcoin. Ølnes responded with “yes, I remember that from 2015. I thought, another one claiming to be Satoshi.”
Ølnes added that Wright’s demeanor and characteristics were “so far away from how Satoshi was.” He described Wright’s writing as “very pompous language” compared to Satoshi’s writing style.
As far as the consensus among the community, Ølnes stated that many agree that Wright is not Satoshi and he shares that opinion. “The more I read about the case it’s getting more and more clear that he cannot be Satoshi,” he says.
At the request of the judge, Ølnes added clarification as to how Wright’s language differed from Satoshi’s. Ølnes explained that “Satoshi formulated himself very clearly and precisely.” The text in the Whitepaper is distinctly written and clear while Wright is very cryptic through text.
One of Wright’s witnesses, Stefan Matthews who recently stepped down from the CEO position with Calvin Ayre’s TAAL company, takes the stand and is asked by Haukass if he still has the original copy of the Whitepaper that Wright claims to have sent in 2008. Matthews responded “no, I had it digitally on my computer but I don't have access. I really wish I had kept it.”
Day five was the second day of witnesses beginning with Shoaib Yousuf, managing partner at Boston Consulting Group in Dubai. Manshaus (Wright’s lawyer) asked for Yousuf’s thoughts when he heard that Wright could be Satoshi. “When I first heard the news I thought it was probably right,” he said.
After questioning Neville Edward Sinclair, who is a registered accountant who formerly worked with Wright at BDO in 2006, CIO at Qudos Bank in Sydney, David Bridges, was brought up to share his thoughts about Wright claiming to be Satoshi. “I just thought this all makes sense. If anyone is Satoshi it’s this guy,” he replied.
Wright’s cousin, Maxwell Lynem, is brought up for questioning and is told that as a family member, Lynem is not obligated to testify but he chose to do so anyway.
“We had known for years that Wright was the guy fundamentally behind Bitcoin… Satoshi doesn’t mean anything to me. All geeks have codenames. Wright is Craig, he is not Satoshi. If Wright published under a codename, that’s quite normal. He can be both,” says Lynem.
Autism expert Ami Klin, who evaluated Wright, was brought in to testify that “there is no connection between autism and narcissism. But having autism does not immunize you from having another condition.”
Klin claims to have been able to diagnose Wright based on accounts from his family members and adds that he is likely in the top 1% of intelligent people in the world without conducting an IQ test.
After questioning Klin, two expert witnesses from KPMG presented their report on the metadata included in the evidence bundle. One of the Microsoft Word documents in the evidence bundle contained “23/10/2008 date of origin: UTC+11, Australia” however the font used in the document, Calibri Light, was not released until 2012.
The judge noted that “this is heavy to digest.”
Thomas Dahl is from BDO and was the first witness of the day. At BDO, the company provides accounting and forensic technology services. Dahl criticized the KPMG report by saying “all evidence in court should be able to be reproduced. It’s a complex case but generally you should document the method being used. According to the ISO standard, that would not be enough.”
Manshaus asked Dahl if it is possible to change the data of files when moving between Windows and Linux operating systems. Dahl replied that it is possible by moving the files without opening them, the metadata will not change. If files are opened after moving them to a different operating system, then the metadata will change.
Dahl clarifies that when opening the files after being moved to different operating systems, it is likely that there are traces within the metadata that will indicate which operating system was being used for certain changes.
In response to the manipulated data that KPMG reported, Dahl explains that “we are not critical of the work KPMG has done. We have verified many of the same evidences as KPMG and verified many of their findings ourselves. What we have said is a weakness is the explanation of methodology.”
Dahl concluded that it was “harsh” to present the documents as manipulated while they could have simply been changed.
Later on during the session, a final evidence review took place where Haukaas cited an email from Wright to Andresen stating:
Rob would have liked what Core are doing. I am a fraud, but I am a fraud that is free to work on what I need to do.
During the last part of the session, closing statements began with Haukass doing an overview of the evidence presented in favor of Wright’s claim to be Satoshi.
Haukass stated to the court:
The blog posts where Wright is referring to earlier Bitcoin documents are all manipulated. There is no evidence. It doesn’t matter if Wright or someone else did the manipulation. Wright is fraudulently trying claim he is Satoshi.
Haukass then added that Wright’s behavior is in direct contradiction to the Bitcoin ethos by stating:
Wright is working to gather 100 witnesses as his evidence. The Whitepaper says you should not trust a third party. That’s the whole point. Mantra is ‘don’t trust, verify.’ Wright doesn’t want to give evidence that you can verify, just trust the witnesses.
Haukass goes on to cover how freedom of speech is outlined by the Norwegian constitution and European Convention of Human Rights.
Essentially one needs the ability to criticize people in power because it protects the individual’s right to search for the truth.
Haukass states that sentencing someone for defamation is a limitation of freedom of speech.
He goes on to describe the principle differences between public and private domains and how public expression is necessary without fear of prosecution. Haukass adds that false statements that are defamatory can still be lawful in order to find the truth.
A statement may be considered legal if proof is presented, but if the statement is later proven to be wrong, this does not mean that the statement is unlawful. Haukass adds that while defamatory statements regarding criminal offenses need a higher burden of proof, Hodlonaut’s tweets are not statements referring to criminal offenses and he had sound grounds for claiming Wright is a fraud.
Haukass concluded that Wright has not presented any evidence proving that he is Satoshi and his own blog post stated this sentiment.
On the final day of the seven day trial, Bjørk Myklebust continued the closing statements for Hodlonaut.
He presented an overview of various documents that the KPMG report had shown to be manipulated along with Wright’s change of tactics from proving he is Satoshi with documents to instead using people as character witnesses.
Freedom of speech stands very strong in Norway. The defamation element is not calling Wright a fraud. The defamation element is that he is not credible, because he did something fraudulently, with fake evidence.
Myklebust continued by explaining that Hodlonaut’s statements were made regarding a matter of public interest and come with a high level of protection since Wright became a public figure after claiming to be Satoshi.
Wright has made a controversial claim and must therefore accept and withstand criticism regarding that claim.
She then presented a previous case also dealing with defamation where a private person was called a neo-nazi and the court concluded that the claim was not a personal attack. Another case highlighted the threshold test where everyday internet users post comments that are considered offensive and defamatory.
Myklebust stated that many of the comments would likely be understood as conjecture and should not be taken sincerely.
She then concluded that the tweets from Hodlonaut are his subjective opinion when referring to Wright. As a public figure, Wright must tolerate these statements.
In the Axel Springer AG case, the court concluded that it is relevant to what the defamed person has stated in the past. Additionally, the party using strong words must also accept receiving strong words back. An example of this is when Wright would call others “soyboys” in replies to Tweets.
In terms of engagement received from Hodlonaut’s Tweets in question, one of them received one retweet and 12 likes. None of the witnesses brought up for questioning remember seeing the Tweets when they initially posted.
These were the same Tweets that Wright claimed to have received threats from after they were posted.
It was reiterated that this case is not about harsh Tweets but whether or not Hodlonaut acknowledges Wright as Satoshi. As a “defamed person,” Wright had the chance to reply and make corrections to statements.
During the period after the Tweets were posted, Wright’s account had around 70,000 followers while Hodlonaut had around 7,700 followers. Wright became inactive on Twitter around March of 2019 but had access to the CoinGeek media and news site and it was brought up that he had the option at the time to issue statements on the matter.
One of Hodlonaut’s lawyers also reminded the court that Wright also had the option to prove ownership of the keys to Satoshi’s Bitcoin.
Haukaas ended the closing statement for Hodlonaut by saying:
We want Hodlonaut to be acquitted from all Wright’s claims since Wright has not retracted his demands.
For Wright’s closing statement, Manshaus begins with claiming Hodlonaut’s tweets encouraged others to bully Wright and join a “campaign of violence.” Manshaus added that none of Hodlonaut’s witnesses admitted they would retweet the Tweets in question.
Manshaus finished with recounting how Hodlonaut suspended his Twitter account after accepting a Bitcoin-related job. Manshaus then claimed that Hodlonaut understood that the tweets related to Wright could be a problem in the future and added that Hodlonaut never encouraged others to do the same.
One of Wright’s other lawyers, Halvard Helle, argued that the evidence presented by Hodlonaut’s lawyers was years after the time of the Tweets and are therefore not relevant. Helle continued by going through all of Wright’s witness testimonies.
In summary, Helle claims that all of Wright’s witnesses are incompatible with Hodlonaut’s views. The lawyer also speculated that Hodlonaut was attempting to be as provocative and shocking in order to increase engagement online.
Helle brought up the Bitcoin Plebs telegram group and the judge asked for the direct link between Hodlonaut and the group. Helle responded by stating that Hodlonaut’s posting dates coincided with the group’s discussions about Wright.
Helle goes on to explain that everyone at the beginning of the case agreed that Hodlonaut’s Tweets were defamatory but is being argued by Hodlonaut’s lawyers that his Tweets are in a lower level of defamation.
“This case is a combination of defamatory statements that are related to factual claims, and strongly derogatory. Clearly ‘mentally ill’ is a factual claim. These statements are way past the line of what we should accept in a liberal democracy,” says Helle.
Manshaus then claimed that the issue with the KPMG report on Wright’s Bitcoin documents is that they did not use a 2008-2010 environment when performing tests and analysis. “This is not about moving files from Linux to Word. We don’t know what has happened with these files.”
Manshaus then argues that freedom of speech provides a low level of protection against Wright because Hodlnaut has a large audience and influence within the space. Manshaus explains that it is acceptable to be an anonymous account as long as the creator stays within the law.
After Manshaus’s closing statement, Haukass goes on to say:
If a statement doesn't enjoy protection it doesn't mean it’s automatically unlawful.
Hate speech is an example of one limitation for freedom of speech, but does not apply to this case.
The ruling of the case is estimated to be around November 8th, 2022 and both parties will be notified before it is announced.