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Bitcoin whodunit leads to Oz

Two new investigations suggest an Australian businessman may be Satoshi Nakamoto, the mastermind behind the cryptocurrency. As with past efforts to unmask the currency's creator, these might prove inconclusive.

The value of Bitcoin has surged and crashed during its short life span.
Science Picture Co./Corbis

The search for the creator of cryptocurrency Bitcoin may have turned up a new lead.

Two separate investigations published Tuesday, by Wired and Gizmodo, identified Australian businessman Craig Steven Wright as a key figure in the development of Bitcoin. According to both publications, Wright may have developed the digital currency with Dave Kleiman, an American computer forensics analyst who died in 2013.

Australian authorities raided a residence in the suburbs of Sydney following the articles' publication, according to the Guardian. The Australian Federal Police confirmed that a search had taken place but said it wasn't related to Bitcoin.

"The AFP can confirm it has conducted search warrants to assist the Australian Taxation Office at a residence in Gordon and a business premises in Ryde, Sydney," a spokesperson for the police force said in a statement. "This matter is unrelated to recent media reporting regarding the digital currency Bitcoin."

The Australian Taxation Office said it is unable to comment due to "confidentiality provisions in the Tax Act."

Emails sent to addresses associated with Wright in both the Wired and Gizmodo stories weren't answered. An email CNET sent to a company reportedly associated with Wright was also unanswered. Efforts to reach a woman identified as Wright's wife were also unsuccessful.

Since Bitcoin was introduced in 2009, the hunt for the cryptocurrency's creator has been an ongoing and engaging whodunit and stirred a relentless stream of sleuthing. The digital currency, started as an obscure Web technology, was created by a person or group using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Nakamoto was active in the development and expansion of bitcoin until late 2010, at which point he largely disappeared.

The currency, which isn't backed by a government or central bank, hasn't gained traction with the general public. But some major companies, including Dell, Microsoft and Overstock, accept it as payment.

The value of Bitcoin has surged and crashed and surged in its short lifespan. Originally worth just pennies apiece, Bitcoins climbed to a value of more than $1,000 at one point and are currently worth about $415 each.

Though the currency hasn't caught on, the technology behind Bitcoin, a public ledger known as the blockchain, is being considered for use in land registries in Greece and Honduras. The Nasdaq stock exchange is also using blockchain technology to record and catalog trading in shares of privately held companies.

The twin investigations, based largely on leaked emails and documents, have already generated skepticism. Tech site Motherboard has said some of the evidence points to an elaborate hoax.

Gizmodo published a handful of emails allegedly from and to Wright that reference him being Nakamoto. It also showed parts of a transcript from an alleged meeting on Bitcoin regulation between Wright, his attorney and the Australian Taxation Office. During the meeting, Wright said he's been hiding that he's been "running bitcoin since 2009," according to the transcript.

Wired's investigation turned up the same alleged transcript and highlighted several blog posts allegedly written by Wright that it linked to email addresses known to be used by Nakamoto. Wired also published an image of a blog post bearing a 2009 date in which Wright allegedly announced the launch of Bitcoin. "The Beta of Bitcoin is live tomorrow. This is decentralized," the blog post reads. "We try until it works."

The Wired and Gizmodo reports aren't the first efforts to unmask Nakamoto.

In 2011, The New Yorker suggested that Michael Clear, at the time a graduate student in cryptography at Trinity College in Dublin, could be Nakamoto. Last year, Newsweek ran a cover story that claimed Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, a 64-year-old Temple City, California, resident, was the creator of Bitcoin. He denied having any involvement with the cryptocurrency and threatened to sue Newsweek for the chaos the article created.

CNET's Claire Reilly contributed to this report.

Update, 2:25 p.m. PT: Adds information on the investigations by Wired and Gizmodo.