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Craig Wright Lawsuit Over $57B in Bitcoin Could Be Headed for Mistrial

The estate of Dave Kleiman is suing self-claimed Bitcoin creator Craig Wright, arguing Kleiman has legal rights to half of the BTC mined by Satoshi Nakamoto.

3 min read

In brief

  • The estate of Dave Kleiman sued Craig Wright in 2018.
  • A lawsuit alleges that Kleiman and Wright were partners who invented Bitcoin together.
  • Wright claims he is the sole inventor of Bitcoin.

When presented with two impossible options, sometimes it's best to just shrug your shoulders and say, "I don’t know."

That's what a federal jury in the Southern District of Florida did today in the case of Kleiman v. Wright. Jurors told Judge Beth Bloom they "cannot all agree on a verdict on any of the questions" in the fraud trial over a supposed Bitcoin fortune. If the deadlocked jury cannot reach a conclusion after additional deliberations, the judge can declare a mistrial, opening up the possibility that the years-long case will be litigated with fresh jurors.

A brief refresher: Craig Wright is an Australian computer IT professional who says he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin. Dave Kleiman, who died in 2013, was a computer scientist and Wright's business partner. Kleiman's estate is suing Wright, claiming that the men together created the blockchain network and that Wright defrauded Kleiman after his death. Wright says he invented Bitcoin on his own, though he has not provided the private keys to Satoshi's Bitcoin address—proof that he owned the account.

Jurors are being asked to decide whether a partnership truly existed between the two men. If so, Kleiman's estate would be entitled to half of the intellectual property and the earnings that came from it. 

And, if that partnership involved creating Bitcoin, a lot of money is at stake. As Bitcoin's inventor, Satoshi was the earliest Bitcoin miner. Altogether, he/she/they earned roughly 1 million in BTC in the early days of the network. That stash, which has remained untouched, now totals about $57 billion. If Kleiman were to win, Wright would be on the hook for over $28 billion.

The problem, of course, is that Wright may not have the money—unless the prevailing skepticism is wrong and the IT researcher has really been Nakamoto all along. In January 2020, nearly two years after Kleiman's estate brought the lawsuit, Wright's lawyer confirmed to Decrypt that the Australian didn't possess the keys to Satoshi's address. Lawyer Andres Rivero said Wright was waiting to receive a delivery with the private keys. Perhaps, he should call the courier, because the court has been waiting.

Nonetheless, Wright has continued to assert that he is Nakamoto, alienating a large swath of Bitcoin users in the process. He helped lead the fork between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash in 2017 by arguing that BCH was closer to his intention for the network, then fomented another revolt that led to Bitcoin SV (the SV stands for Satoshi Vision), an asset that prominent exchanges such as Coinbase and Binance refuse to list over security concerns.

Wright has also been on the other side of the courtroom, bringing lawsuits against those who posted the Bitcoin whitepaper and arguing that they violated copyright laws.

If it feels like this case was already decided, that's because it kind of was. In 2019, Judge Bruce Reinhart found Wright to be "not credible" while also recommending that he transfer half of his Bitcoins to Kleiman's estate and ordering him to pay the plaintiff's lawyer fees. Judge Bloom overruled all but the fees, teeing up the case to go to a jury trial. After facing COVID-related delays, the jury began hearing arguments in early November and have spent the last four days deliberating.

And, if they can't come to a decision, expect the ordeal to drag on into 2022.

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