Dorian S Nakamoto, the Japanese-American man named as bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto, has denied any link to the digital currency amid a farcical media chase through Los Angeles.
Nakamoto, 64, disputed a Newsweek cover story that on Thursday unmasked him as the “father of bitcoin”. His denial cast doubt on a putative scoop the magazine used to relaunch its print edition.
Nakamoto made the denial in an interview with the Associated Press after a day of near-slapstick scenes in which dozens of journalists pursued him and an AP reporter through the city, provoking a social media storm. “I got nothing to do with it,” he said.
It remained unclear whether Newsweek had got the right man – the enigmatic, anonymous architect of the troubled currency – or committed a credibility-shredding blunder.
A media posse continued seeking Nakamoto on Thursday night after he left the AP office in downtown LA where he and the reporter had sought refuge earlier in the day.
On Friday morning the plot thickened when a post by “Satoshi Nakamoto” appeared on the P2P Foundation’s Ning page saying: “I am not Dorian Nakamoto.” The post appeared in the same discussion thread where a person going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto first published the idea of bitcoin in February 2009 – the TechCrunch blog said the P2P foundation had confirmed the latest message was from a poster with the same email address.
The Newsweek story, written by Leah McGrath Goodman, named him as “the mystery man behind the crypto-currency” which exploded in popularity in 2013 and supposedly made its founder worth $400m.
During a recent encounter at the doorstep of his modest two-storey home in Temple City, a suburb in the San Gabriel valley, he tacitly acknowledged his role, said the report. “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” it quoted him saying. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”
That version wobbled when Nakamoto told AP he had never heard of bitcoin until contacted by Newsweek three weeks ago.
The confusion was the latest twist to bitcoin’s rollercoaster fortunes. After hitting a peak of $1,200 last year it tumbled to $130 last month after its most popular exchange, Mt Gox, collapsed. It was rebounding this week and valued at $665 on Thursday despite another scandal involving the bank Flexcoin. Detractors have accused bitcoin of facilitating drug smuggling and money laundering.
Satoshi Nakamoto, a name attributed to the currency’s founder, was widely deemed a pseudonym for an elusive, genius hacker. Numerous media organisations tried and failed to find him.
Newsweek, a venerable but struggling brand that had dropped its print edition in 2012, returned to newsstands this week trumpeting its 4,500-word story under the headline “Bitcoin’s Face”.
The article quoted his brother Arthur saying Nakamoto, born in Japan, was a bit eccentric, gifted at mathematics, had worked for defence and electronics companies and had a penchant for model trains.
It said he graduated from California State Polytechnic University and changed his name to Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto in 1973, from which point he signed his name Dorian S Nakamoto.
Within hours of publication dozens of journalists camped outside Nakamoto’s door, ringing the bell with no response, until their silver-haired, bespectacled quarry, dressed in a grey sports coat and striped shirt, emerged and said he wanted someone who spoke Japanese and would buy him lunch.
“I’m not involved in bitcoin. Wait a minute, I want my free lunch first. I’m going with this guy,” Nakamoto said, pointing at an AP reporter. “I’m not in bitcoin, I don’t know anything about it.”
Cameras followed as the pair headed in a Prius to a sushi restaurant. When reporters intruded they left and drove downtown, the pursuers tweeting all the way and making comparisons to the OJ Simpson highway chase in 1994.
Twitter exploded in glee and indignation via the hashtag #bitcoinchase, some people enjoying the spectacle but others critical of what they called media hounding.
A fake account, @DorianSatoshi, made jokey comments along the way. “Speeding west down the 10. I feel like this is going to end badly.” And: “So many offers for free lunch. Looks like this bitcoin thing is paying off for me after all!” Later: “Ugh. AP journo isn’t even asking me questions. He’s just pitching his idea for APcoin.”
The pair took refuge in the news agency’s downtown headquarters, leaving a media mob outside. In AP’s report, published late on Thursday, the alleged currency mastermind said his English was imperfect and that the Newsweek reporter misinterpreted him when he said was “no longer involved in that”.
“I’m saying I’m no longer in engineering. That’s it,” he said of the exchange. “And even if I was, when we get hired you have to sign this document, contract, saying you will not reveal anything we divulge during and after employment. So that’s what I implied. It sounded like I was involved before with bitcoin and looked like I’m not involved now. That’s not what I meant. I want to clarify that,” he said.
McGrath Goodman, who spent two months researching the story, responded that she stood by her version of the exchange on his doorstep. “There was no confusion whatsoever about the context of our conversation – and his acknowledgment of his involvement in bitcoin.”
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image: © Zach Copley