The seven-day defamation trial in Oslo, Norway, which began on September 12, is already on its fourth day. The first batch of witnesses is called to the stand to give their testimonies. The bench trial is expected to end on September 21, after which the Judge will take the case under advisement before making a final decision.
The plaintiff in this trial is the previously anonymous Twitter personality “Hodlonaut,” whose real-world identity is Norwegian citizen Magnus Granath. nChain Chief Scientist Dr. Craig S. Wright is on the opposite side of the court as the defendant.
The plaintiff is aiming to establish that Granath did not defame Wright under the free speech act of Norway in his 2019 tweets that are mostly centered on how Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous writer of the Bitcoin whitepaper, and hence, the pioneer digital currency’s creator.
As the defendant, Wright’s goal is to prove that Granath did indeed defame him through the said tweets. Although the trial is centered on defamation, the Judge will weigh evidence and witness testimony presented on whether or not Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto to support the case.
“A judgment in this case will not establish beyond a reasonable doubt if Dr. Wright is Satoshi. Whether Dr. Wright is or is not Satoshi will support the case, however,” the Judge said in her opening remarks.
In March 2019, Hodlonaut posted a series of offensive tweets that named Wright and called him “Faketoshi,” “trash,” “a fraud,” “a very sad and pathetic scammer” and “mentally ill.” He also created a week-long campaign with the hashtag “#CraigWrightIsAFraud.”
On March 29, Wright sent Hodlonaut a legal notice via Twitter demanding for him to take down his posts, apologize and recant his statements publicly and in court, and not to post about Wright again. If these conditions were met, Wright would not file a defamation lawsuit against Hodlonaut.
Hodlonaut responded by deleting his tweets in April, but he did not apologize nor recant his statements. Because Hodlonaut was anonymous, Wright and CoinGeek Founder Calvin Ayre, founder of Ayre Group and CoinGeek, posted a $5,000 worth of BSV reward for anyone who can reveal the identity of Hodlonaut, so Wright can sue him for defamation.
This act spurred support for Hodlonaut on social media, creating the #weareallhodlonaut movement in which supporters changed their usernames and profile photos to that of Hodlonaut’s astronaut cat.
In May, Hodlonaut claimed that a private investigator pretended to be a police officer and was able to obtain his personal information. According to the social media influencer, this was what prompted him to file a case against Wright in Norway to establish that his tweets were lawful and can be protected under his home country’s free speech laws, and thus, he is not liable for any damages that may be demanded by Wright.
Upon learning of Hodlonaut’s identity, Wright filed a libel suit in the United Kingdom High Court against the Twitter influencer in June. This resulted in two ongoing cases of defamation taking place in two different countries.
In between, both parties have filed motions to dismiss each other’s cases in Norway and the UK, and both have failed. The UK High Court has yet to set a trial date, although Granath has already been ordered by the court to pay Wright a total of £303,000.
There is an ongoing fundraiser at defendingBTC.com geared towards helping Hodlonaut pay for his legal defense.
The plaintiff brought to the stand three of their witnesses on Day 4 of the trial in Oslo: Torbjorn Bull Jenssen, CEO of Oslo-based cryptocurrency trading platform Arcane Crypto; Johan Toras Halseth, technology director of Nordic cryptocurrency exchange Firi and former Lightning Labs protocol engineer; and tenured academic Svein Olnes, who is also a senior researcher at the Western Norway Research Institute (Vestlandsforsking).
The three witnesses were asked almost the same set of questions. The plaintiff focused on the witnesses’ opinions on BSV at the time the tweets were made and why they think Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto based on separate proof sessions using the Satoshi private keys with Jon Matonis and Gavin Andresen, and a May 2016 blog post written by Wright entitled “Jean-Paul Sartre, signing and significance.”
The cross-examination by the defense was more about whether or not the witnesses agreed with the tone and language of Hodlonaut’s tweets against Wright and if they would retweet them. Defense counsel Halvor Manshaus got his point across as the witnesses answered that they would not retweet Hodlonaut’s posts nor would they use the same words to tweet about somebody even if they think they were a fraud.
At the end of the day, Manshaus seemed to want to draw back the Judge’s attention that it is a defamation case and that “We aren’t here to determine whether Dr. Wright is a fraud—we are here to see if Granath has defamed Dr. Wright.”
After lunch, the defense called in two of their witnesses to the stand, who were former colleagues of Wright and have maintained a personal relationship with him to this day. The first to take the stand was nChain Chairman Stefan Matthews, a known friend of Wright who has worked with him for 15 years.
In 2007, Matthews worked for online gaming company CentreBet which hired global auditing and taxation firm BDO to test its digital systems. He met Wright as he was the BDO audit lead for CenterBet’s account. Matthews told the Oslo court that from 2007 to 2008, Wright talked to him about many of the key concepts that now make up Bitcoin and blockchain, which was published on October 31, 2008 under the authorship of Satoshi Nakamoto.
According to Matthews, since he also received a draft copy of it in August 2008, he instantly recognized Wright as the author of the Bitcoin whitepaper when it was published. “It was like I’d seen a ghost.” Matthews also said that he spoke with Matonis two months before testifying in court, and Matonis is standing firm in his conviction that the proof session he had with Wright in 2016 was valid, and that he is not recanting the statement he made on his blog entitled, “How I Met Satoshi.”
“According to me, the proof is conclusive and I have no doubt that Craig Steven Wright is the person behind the Bitcoin technology, Nakamoto consensus, and the Satoshi Nakamoto name,” Matonis wrote.
The Judge then asked Matthews about his stake in proving Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto—whether it will negatively impact BSV-based companies TAAL and nChain if it is proven that Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto. To this, Matthews answered that it would be hard to quantify the ramifications, but that his companies are already established enough with a steady stream of clientele that it would not matter much.
Next on the stand is IT consultant Robert Jenkins. Jenkins used to work for Vodafone, the leading technology communications firm in Europe, and had the chance to work with Wright after Vodafone chose Wright’s company, DeMorgan, to design its firewall. Wright had done something similar for the Australian Stock Exchange.
Jenkins testified that although Bitcoin was never mentioned to him by Wright, they had discussed concepts that made Bitcoin and blockchain, such as financial systems, trustless payments, immutable ledgers and the possibility of the point-to-point transfer of value using nodes.
According to Jenkins, when he remembers his conversations with Wright before the Bitcoin whitepaper was released, he believes “without a doubt” that it is possible that Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.
While the plaintiff’s witnesses relied mostly on opinions and second and third hand information regarding the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the witnesses for the defense were experts who had firsthand dealings with Wright on professional and personal levels. On top of testifying that Wright is more than capable of inventing Bitcoin, Matthews and Jenkins confirmed that Wright was working on key concepts for Bitcoin and blockchain before the whitepaper was released.
Granath v Wright has three more days in Norwegian court; and at this moment, it is still anyone’s ball game.
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