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The Satoshi mystery: Bitcoin’s anonymous creator and a $70 billion fortune

    A trial unfolding this week in the U.K. centers on the biggest open question in the cryptocurrency world: who is Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto?

    Why it matters: Almost no one believes the man currently in court claiming to be Satoshi really is Bitcoin’s anonymous founder. But there are some compelling theories for who Satoshi really is — and who might control the 1.1 million bitcoin in known Satoshi wallets.

    • If Satoshi is alive and in control of his keys, then he has access to holdings worth around $70 billion at today’s prices.
    • But they’ve never moved. The market assumes they are lost coins.

    Driving the news: Australian computer scientist Craig Wright claims to be Satoshi, and a court decision is expected within weeks as to whether he has a claim over the Bitcoin blockchain’s intellectual property.

    • That ruling won’t prove Wright’s claim, or give him access to the creator’s keys.

    The big picture: The question of who Satoshi is — who made this crazy money machine — will remain one of the most persistent quandaries in the technology world.

    • My thought bubble: Bitcoin was not made by a “group of people,” as some suspect. It was one person.

    So who’s who? Let’s talk about some of the favorite candidates for bitcoin’s creator.

    Elon Musk

    former SpaceX intern has been banging this drum in reporters’ inboxes for years.

    • Best argument: Musk was CEO at PayPal, which means he gave a lot of thought to money on the internet.
    • On the other hand: He was taking over Tesla in 2008, as Bitcoin was being conceptualized.
    • Believability: Low.

    John Nash

    The troubled mathematician Russell Crowe portrayed in “A Beautiful Mind” was a gifted cryptographer, who died six years after the first bitcoins were mined.

    • Best argument: Toward the end of his life, Nash was very interested in money.
    • And also: With some head-twisting word puzzling, you can find “John Nash” in Satoshi’s full name, according to this Redditor.
    • Believability: Even lower.

    Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto

    The U.S.-based Japanese engineer was identified by Newsweek as bitcoin’s inventor in 2014.

    Hal Finney

    A computer scientist, video game maker, cryptographer, and — by all accounts — the nicest guy, Finney has gone down in history as the first person to receive a bitcoin transaction.

    • Best argument: He was there from the beginning, with the skills to do it.
    • He was diagnosed with ALS shortly after Bitcoin debuted, dying in 2014, four years after Satoshi said adieu.
    • Believability: High.

    Nick Szabo

    A cypherpunk who invented an early online payment scheme he called bit gold.

    • Best argument: In his Coinbase book, “Kings of Crypto,” Fortune’s Jeff John Roberts says it’s an open secret among long-time bitcoiners that Szabo is Satoshi.
    • Plus: Experts say their writing styles match nicely. And the initials of each are switched (SN and NS). 🤯
    • Yes, but: Szabo has also denied it.
    • Believability: This is my bet (Occam’s razor + vibes), but the evidence is circumstantial.

    The latest: The Wright trial prompted Martti Malmi — the real Satoshi’s first sidekick (in digital anonymity) — just released new email exchanges with Satoshi from over a decade ago.

    • They offer more intrigue than clues.

    The bottom line: To bitcoiners, it doesn’t matter who Satoshi is. By abdicating, he fostered decentralization.