Calling self-proclaimed Bitcoin inventor Craig Wright a “fraud” was part of a deliberate reckless campaign that shouldn’t be tolerated in a democracy, nChain Chief Scientist Craig S. Wright’s lawyers told an Oslo court Wednesday in the seventh and final day of a civil case brought by Twitter personality Hodlonaut.
District Court Judge Helen Engebrigtsen must now decide whether Hodlonaut’s comments that Wright was a “fraud” were lawful free speech. Wright has said he is Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous author of the 2008 white paper that began the cryptocurrency revolution, but has not been able to prove this claim. He told the court last week that he had destroyed some of the key evidence he could use to verify that he was indeed Satoshi.
The Norwegian constitution and European Convention on Human Rights, both of which protect free speech while also safeguarding a private life, have their limits, Wright’s lawyers argued.
Tweets sent in 2019 by Hodlonaut, whose identity has since been revealed as Magnus Granath, were a “lasting, well-thought-through and reckless campaign that others were to take part in,” Wright’s lawyer Halvor Manshaus told the court. “To call somebody a fraud and a scammer – that, I would say, is harassment …That is not protected by freedom of expression.”
Halvard Helle, who like Manshaus is a partner at Schødt law firm in Oslo, said the series of tweets proclaiming Wright a fraud constituted “persistent ongoing attacks” which go “way beyond what should be the climate of expression in a liberal democracy.”
Hodlonaut vs. Wright: Summing up the facts
The case may hinge on whether Granath’s references to Wright as “mentally ill” and a “scammer” should be taken as statements of fact, capable of being proven or mere value judgments.
Much legal argument was also dedicated to deciding whether the statements need to be deemed true now or to have been believable back in 2019. If so, that could reduce the weight given to expert forensic evidence presented to the court that suggest Wright’s documents were forgeries – testimony not available to Granath at the time.
Read more: Craig Wright’s Abnormal Psychology
The trial was attended by Wright’s legal team of eight, Granath’s of two, journalists and a class of around a dozen students. The students, there to learn about the practical application of Norwegian compensation claims, didn’t seem too engaged by the ins and outs of the foundation of Bitcoin. (One of them told CoinDesk at lunchtime that the proceedings had been “all a bit boring,” and they did not show up for the afternoon.)
While the objective of the case is not purely to test the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, Granath’s lawyers are seeking an assurance that it was lawful to state that Wright is fraudulently trying to prove he is Bitcoin’s inventor. Wright’s lawyers, meanwhile, emphasized that the Australian had never wanted to be publicly badged as Satoshi.
“Mr. Wright is a private person,” said Helle, adding that Wright had “felt an intense distaste for being outed as Satoshi … it happened against his will.”
Nonetheless, Wright’s lawyers drew attention to the character witnesses who supported Wright’s claims to be Satoshi – including testimony from colleague Stefan Matthews, chairman of the board of nChain.
It was “unthinkable” that Matthews would have cooperated with Wright for several years if Wright hadn’t really been the founder of the cryptocurrency, Helle said. (Granath’s lawyers said Matthews’ evidence was “absolutely not trustworthy” on the basis that he profited from Wright’s claim.)
A private proof offered to prominent Bitcoin developer Gavin Andresen that Wright possesses Satoshi’s private keys must have been genuine because Andresen had used a brand-new laptop and wallet for the test, Manshaus said – but the lawyer seemed aggrieved that the challenges still didn’t stop there. (Andresen later said he believed he had been fooled by Wright.)
“For each step you take to prove that Craig Wright is Satoshi, there’s criticism,” Manshaus said.
An unfair target?
Counsel for Granath, meanwhile, emphasized the holes in Wright’s claims and accused Wright of picking Granath unfairly as a target in a campaign of his own.
“It has not been proven in any shape or form that these tweets have had an impact,” Ørjan Salvesen Haukaas, Granath’s lawyer, said, adding that Wright was “trying to use Granath as an example to other people.”
Wright “has used lies and manipulation in order to try to prove that he is in fact Satoshi Nakamoto … he gave incorrect information on several counts to the court” in relation to the matter, Haukaas added. “Nothing speaks in favor of Wright being Satoshi.”
Evidence heard earlier by the court cited anomalies in the fonts in a document that purported to be an early draft of Satoshi’s 2008 white paper.
While Judge Engebrigtsen gave few clues as to her views, she did appear to struggle with exactly what Haukaas was asking her to decide in a case which, in part, has been brought to halt a parallel libel case being heard in the U.K. If Engebrigsten finds in favor of Hodlonaut, Wright will not be allowed to sue for damages in connection with the tweets, effectively ending the U.K. suit.
“I can’t make any decision for a claim in the U.K.,” Engebrigtsen said. She then appeared to acknowledge Haukaas’ clarification that he was seeking to establish that there is no financial liability for damages due to the tweets.
Granath’s lawyers cited legal precedents to show it was legitimate to criticize a public figure such as Wright, and that the strong tone of the 2019 messages was consistent with how people use Twitter – including Wright himself.
Previous evidence had shown Wright himself bandying insulting terms such as “cuck” and “soy boy.”
Indeed, Wright gave CoinDesk an example of his frank way of speaking as he left the courthouse.
“Ross Ulbricht is a piece of s***,” Wright told reporters, declining to interact with CoinDesk because, he claimed, the publication supports a campaign to free the incarcerated founder of the Silk Road contraband market. (CoinDesk almost never adopts a formal editorial position on issues, and it has not taken one on Ulbricht. The site has published an op-ed by his mother, part of a big tent of diverse contributors that also includes regulators and veterans of the intelligence community. CoinDesk has also interviewed her.)
Catch up on the trial thus far: