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Was the latest Bitcoin revelation actually an extortion scheme?

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Earlier this week, Wired and Gizmodo dropped two bombshell reports putting forward a previously unknown figure as the possible founder of Bitcoin. The reports examined a man named Craig Steven Wright, a previously unknown businessman from Australia who had appeared at a few cryptocurrency conferences. Could this be the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, hidden from the public eye for seven years?

In the days that followed, Wright himself has had his home raided by Australian tax authorities, and a number of inconsistencies have appeared in the evidence linking him to the creation of Bitcoin. As Wired initially stated, many of the blog posts pointing to Wright's role in launching Bitcoin were edited as recently as 2014. Motherboard has also revealed strong evidence that Wright's encryption keys were intentionally altered to appear as if they dated back to the early days of Bitcoin. But while it seems likely that the evidence was faked, we still know very little about why it was faked, and what motivated the leaker in the first place. What we do know suggests it may have been far more complicated than a simple hoax.

The closest thing we have to a statement from Wright himself comes from respected cryptocurrency researcher Ian Grigg, who claims to have spoken with Wright's friends and family. According to Grigg, Wright was the target of an extortion plot, which culminated in both the reports and the raid on Wright's home. Shortly after posting this claim, Grigg received what appears to be an abusive email from someone linked with the plot.

While an extortion plot might seem far-fetched, it fits with what we know about how the information was distributed in the first place. The documents obtained by Wired and Gizmodo were sent to at least three other outlets over the course of just a couple months (Newsweek, Yahoo News and Nathaniel Popper at The New York Times). That suggests whoever obtained them was eager for the story to get out as soon as possible, and was willing to put pressure on publications that waited too long to run it. The result was two publications racing each other to break the news, forced to forgo research on central questions because of simple time constraints.

At the same time, there seem to have been legitimate tax problems at Wright's Hotwire business, which would have left him vulnerable to such a plot. Australian police have stated that their raid is unrelated to the reports, and it's likely that the underlying charges would have caused problems for Wright even without his newfound fame. Still, it cannot have been reassuring for investigators to hear rumors that their target was concealing hundreds of millions of dollars in undeclared assets.

Correction December 10th 7:45PM ET: The article originally stated that Craig Steven Wright was arrested. His home was raided, but there was no arrest. The Verge regrets this error, and we've updated the story.