False evidence by 'bitcoin creator': court

·3-min read

An Australian computer expert who claims to have invented the digital currency bitcoin has been awarded just one pound ($A1.70) in damages after he gave "deliberately false" evidence in a United Kingdom High Court defamation case.

Craig Wright - purportedly bitcoin creator "Satoshi Nakamoto" - sued blogger Peter McCormack for libel over a series of tweets in 2019 that alleged his claim to be the enigmatic inventor was fraudulent.

In a ruling on Monday, Justice Chamberlain concluded the tweets, and a video discussion broadcast on YouTube where McCormack made similar claims, had caused "serious harm" to Wright's reputation.

But the High Court judge limited Wright's damages to one pound after he put forward a "deliberately false" case over being dis-invited from academic conferences because of the tweets until days before the libel trial in May.

In the tweets made between March and August 2019, McCormack, a podcaster specialising in content about cryptocurrencies, alleged that "Craig Wright is not Satoshi" and is "a fraud".

Amid complaints from Wright's solicitors, he tweeted in response: "Let's go to court."

In the lead-up to the libel trial, Wright initially argued that he had been invited to speak at numerous conferences after the successful submission of academic papers for blind peer review but that 10 invites were withdrawn following McCormack's tweets.

This included alleged potential appearances at events in France, Vietnam, the United States, Canada and Portugal.

But McCormack submitted evidence from academics challenging Wright's claims which were dropped from his case at the trial in May.

Wright later accepted that some of his evidence was "wrong" but that this was "inadvertent", Justice Chamberlain said.

The judge noted that there was "no documentary evidence" that Wright had a paper accepted at any of the conferences identified in the earlier version of his libel claim, nor that he received an invitation to speak at them except possibly one and nor that any invitation was withdrawn.

Wright's explanation for abandoning this part of his case because the alleged damage to his reputation from the "dis-invitations" was outside England and Wales "does not withstand scrutiny," the judge added.

He concluded that "Dr Wright's original case on serious harm, and the evidence supporting it, both of which were maintained until days before trial, were deliberately false".

Lawyers for McCormack argued at trial that his tweets were made in "flippant and light-hearted terms" and were in response to posts by Calvin Ayre, a Canadian businessman, "goading others into accusing Dr Wright of being a fraud".

They also claimed there were "numerous other individuals who had posted the same allegations about Dr Wright", Justice Chamberlain said.

Justice Chamberlain concluded that although the tweets were "flippant in tone" they came from "a well-known podcaster and acknowledged expert in cryptocurrency".

"They were unequivocal in their meaning. Many people who read them would have known that there was a lively debate about whether Dr Wright was Satoshi, but some of them must have been influenced by reading Mr McCormack's trenchantly expressed contribution to that debate," the judge continued.

"The fact that he was willing to state his views so brazenly in response to threats of libel proceedings is likely to have made those who read them more, not less, likely to believe them."

But the judge said that Wright's pre-trial case over the serious harm to his reputation made it "unconscionable" that he should receive "any more than nominal damages".

The judge said the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto was not an issue he had to determine in his ruling as McCormack had earlier abandoned a defence of truth in his case.

In a statement issued by his law firm ONTIER LLP after the ruling, Wright said he had endured "extreme and offensive online trolling for many years," adding that "where requests to cease and desist are ignored or rebuffed, I have little choice but to seek legal redress".

He continued: "McCormack was wrong when he said I am not Satoshi Nakamoto. His tweets caused me harm both personally and professionally."

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