Police have raided the home of an Australian tech entrepreneur identified by two US publications as one of the early developers of the digital currency bitcoin.
On Wednesday afternoon, police gained entry to a home belonging to Craig Wright, who had hours earlier been identified in investigations by Gizmodo and Wired, based on leaked transcripts of legal interviews and files. Both publications have indicated that they believe Wright to have been involved in the creation of the cryptocurrency.
Other people who say they knew Wright have expressed strong doubts about his alleged role, with some saying privately they believe the publications have been the victims of an elaborate hoax.
More than 10 police personnel arrived at the house in the Sydney suburb of Gordon at about 1.30pm. Two police staff wearing white gloves could be seen from the street searching the cupboards and surfaces of the garage. At least three more were seen from the front door.
Guardian Australia understands the raids are not related to the claims that Wright may have been involved in the creation of bitcoin, but are related to an Australian Tax Office investigation.
One officer told Reuters they were “clearing the house”. Reuters reporter Jane Wardell said Wright’s offices were also being raided.
The house was the only one on the street with a rubbish bin still outside, six days after the weekly Thursday collection, and the letterbox was full, indicating that the house may have been empty recently.
Tyler Priddle, 17, had lived across the street from Wright’s house her whole life. She said that Wright and Webb had moved in slightly less than a year ago; her parents were on waving terms with them.
She had never heard of bitcoin but her family had remarked on the “excessive” technology in Wright’s house before. “They have all the bushes there, but we could see all this computer stuff in the front room. We just thought it was a bit excessive for a normal … maybe they just need heaps of computers, I don’t know.”
Four police staff left the house just before 3pm local time and declined to comment.
The identity of the founder of the software – known pseudonymously as Satoshi Nakamoto – has never been revealed, despite numerous attempts by news organisations to uncover it.
Wright is involved in a number of tech enterprises in Australia, company records show.
The documents published by Gizmodo appear to show records of an interview with the Australian Tax Office surrounding his tax affairs in which his bitcoin holdings are discussed at length.
During the interview, the person the transcript names as Wright says: “I did my best to try and hide the fact that I’ve been running bitcoin since 2009 but I think it’s getting – most – most – by the end of this half the world is going to bloody know.”
Guardian Australia has been unable to independently verify the authenticity of the transcripts published by Gizmodo, or whether the transcript is an accurate reflection of the audio if the interview took place. It is also not clear whether the phrase “running” refers merely to the process of mining bitcoin using a computer.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Tax Office was unable to confirm whether the meetings with the ATO and Wright had taken place due to “obligations around confidentiality under the law”.
There is also no record publicly available of proceedings Wright was apparently involved in at Australia’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal surrounding his tax affairs, mentioned in the leaked documents.
The purported admission in the transcript does not state that Wright is a founder of the currency, but other emails that Gizmodo claim are from Wright suggest further involvement he may have had in the development of bitcoin.
An email to a Clayton Utz lawyer identified as Wright’s lawyer in the ATO transcripts was sent from an address linked to Nakamoto and is signed “Craig (possibly).”
The email discussed whether contact should be made with Australia’s then assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos in January 2014 over the regulatory issues in Australia surrounding bitcoin.
The treatment of bitcoin for tax purposes in Australia has been the subject of considerable debate. The ATO ruled in December 2014 that cryptocurrency should be considered an asset for capital gains tax purposes.
The emails published by Gizmodo cannot been verified. Comment has been sought from Sinodinos on whether he was contacted by Wright – or his lawyer – in relation to bitcoin and its regulatory and taxation status in Australia.
A third email published by Gizmodo from 2008 attributes to Wright a comment where he said: “I have been working on a new form of electronic money. Bit cash, bit coin …”
Wright has also claimed to be a consultant for the Austalian federal police. Guardian Australia understands the AFP have not been able to find any records of this association.
When Guardian Australia contacted the media number listed for one of Wright’s companies and asked whether Wright was the founder of bitcoin the person who answered the phone hung up.