Steeled by a resolve to blow open the tightly-locked doors holding back one of the greatest mysteries of modern times, Estonian entrepreneur German Neff delivers one ultimate promise: “We will find him.”
It’s a brave claim, especially given that the identity of the person he wants to hunt down has been sought many times before… Satoshi Nakamoto.
Believed to be the inventor of cryptocurrency, Satoshi Nakamoto authored the nine-page White Paper for “a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer with no trusted third party” in 2008.
He or she then created Bitcoin.org before mining the first (the ‘Genesis Block’) Bitcoin. Collaboration with other developers (particularly software developer Gavin Andresen) followed before April 23 2011 when Satoshi posted a final message in response to developer Mike Hearn who asked if he was re-joining the crypto community.
It read: “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”
This led to widespread speculation that Satoshi Nakamoto was, perhaps, crypto programmer Hal Finney who died in August 2014 after a five-year battle with motor neurone disease. Finney was the first person to receive a Bitcoin from Satoshi Nakamoto.
However, that explanation is just too simple a plot line for followers of the world’s biggest tech mystery who continue to point the finger of suspicion at several huge players in the digital world – Elon Musk, John McAfee and Calvin Ayre to name but a few.
Perhaps it’s the romance of a classic mystery, perhaps it’s the fact that Satoshi Nakamoto’s wallet contains a million Bitcoins ($19bn), or perhaps it is just an unquenchable thirst for understanding that is driving this latest effort to find ‘The Father of Crypto’.
“No,” says German Neff sternly. “It is because we don’t know the true motives of this person.”
The tone of the conversation becomes quite serious as the Tallinn-based crypto enthusiast wants to drive home the clearly sombre undercurrent to his mission.
“We do not know who or what this person is about or the real reason why they did what they did,” he says.
“There is only a beautiful legend about the fact that this is a modest genius who created the ‘Most Fair Money’ but, one way or another, we are in a serious market, and not in the legendary world of myths of ancient Greece.
“It’s all serious. Therefore, we must know who in fact created the first cryptocurrency – and why. We want to rule out the possibility that this is a fraud and an attempt to drive the whole world by the nose.”
German has set up a fund to pay private detectives in the USA, UK and Japan to lead the search. But he stresses the project isn’t personal, it’s merely about finding answers. Judged on how quickly the money is being raised – they’re half way to their target of a quarter of a million dollars after just a few days – plenty of other people out there want answers too.
But does Satoshi – dead or alive – want to be found?
“Definitely not,” German snaps, “Otherwise, it would already have happened.”
He believes that, as the world drifts in and out of a cryptocurrency obsession, Satoshi’s vanity would have forced its way to the surface and urged the mystery figure to enjoy a little rock star-style glory on the world stage.
Perhaps that lack of egocentric desire to bask in the limelight plays into the hands of those who argue Satoshi Nakamoto died some time ago.
“Finding the dead is even easier than living,” he smiles.
“Digital footprints are hard to escape, right? And traces will remain.”
But what about the theories that Satoshi is in fact a well-known billionaire?
“You know, at some point, I was very sympathetic to the theory that this is Elon Musk – that would explain a lot,” he says.
“The adventurism and thoughtful actions during the start – not to mention the fact that Musk was associated with a start-up related to electronic money.
“And yet I doubt that this is Musk, purely because of vanity – Musk would enjoy the limelight!”
Anyone who might cynically believe Neff is using the campaign as a personal publicity stunt, or perhaps isn’t entirely serious might be forced to think again. His group have already negotiated contracts with several specialist detective agencies. They’ve also turned a few down, including one London-based agency that wanted £2m up front without a guarantee of even finding the target.
As for the public response, it has been nothing short of remarkable.
“We expected that our search would resonate with people, but we didn’t expect the response to be a great as it has been,” gasps Neff with a disbelieving shake of the head.
“We collected more than half the required amount in under a week – more than a hundred thousand dollars!
“It has gone past the point now where the project cannot be launched.”
Ironically, the crowdfunding platform being used by the #Findsatoshi group is Boomstarter – a fund-generating site which recently began accepting Bitcoin.
“So here we are, using the main invention of Satoshi to find the man himself,” Neff smiles.
“I think this is very symbolic, and we should consider this a good sign.”
What happens if – or “when”, if you share Neff’s confidence – Satoshi is found is anyone’s guess, something the people behind #Findsatoshi are fully aware of.
“You know, we are realists and we approach the case very much with that in mind,” he shrugs.
“We understand that, even when we find Satoshi, there is no way of forcing communication – we can’t just say ‘okay let’s have a coffee and chat’, but our goal will always be to find Satoshi’s motives.”
German Neff and his global team have already met with experts across the world as they try to narrow down the investigation to a shortlist of suspects.
“We have several candidates, some of whom were not on the list of ‘suspects’ in the network before,” he says.
“But we can’t rule out the possibility that all of our suspicions are wrong and it could be some other person entirely.
“It is important that none of us seek to find our own personal piece of glory in this search. Our goal is to find Nakamoto. And we will find him.”