The former programmer and criminal cartel boss, Paul Calder Le Roux, became a Satoshi Nakamoto suspect in the spring of 2019.
Source: New York Post
At the time, almost nobody had heard of Paul Le Roux, let alone suspected that he invented Bitcoin. But that changed rapidly over the following weeks when journalists and Reddit sleuths dug into Le Roux’s personal and professional history. What they found was that Paul Le Roux’s life somewhat resembles that of a Bond villain.
Since 1995, he has developed and freely released advanced encryption software; built an semi-illegal online pharmacy; supplied and protected armed militias in Somalia; run precious mineral and timber extraction operations across Africa; trafficked narcotics out of North Korea; plotted and then abandoned a coup in the Seychelles; bribed government officials all over the world; built missile guidance systems for Iran; laundered millions through Hong Kong using gold bars and diamonds; and had at least seven people murdered on his behalf.
Source: The Australian
What’s more, he carried out all this criminal activity while staying off the radar of the world’s intelligence agencies until shortly before he was caught.
But Paul Le Roux wasn’t always a criminal mastermind. In fact, he was a programmer for the first ten years of his adult life. It was this fact, combined with his experience with cryptography and encryption, that led many to claim that Le Roux is actually Satoshi Nakamoto – Bitcoin’s mysterious inventor.
Paul Calder Le Roux was born in Rhodesia, a territory now called Zimbabwe, on Christmas Eve 1972. His mother gave him up for adoption, and at two months old he was adopted by a couple from a mining village called Mashava. His family moved to South Africa when Paul was still young because of political and economic instability in Rhodesia, and to find a better school for Paul.
Paul was a reclusive young man: he didn’t like sport or socializing with his peers, but he loved video games and computers. His father gave him his first computer when he was 12, and young Paul spent most of his time on that computer or playing Wing Commander on a gaming console connected to the family TV.
Le Roux started getting into trouble during his teenage years. The police suspected he was selling pornography to other teenagers. They searched his home and found enough porn to arrest the then 15-year-old Paul. His family managed to keep his arrest private, but from that moment on, Le Roux became even more reclusive and defiant.
He defied his teachers at school in many ways, including by refusing to learn Afrikaans – a language similar to Dutch commonly spoken in South Africa. Afrikaans, Le Roux argued, was a dead language, and learning it was therefore a waste of time. Eventually he decided school itself wasn’t worth his time, so he dropped out and enrolled on a year-long programming course. He finished it in eight weeks.
In 1994, Le Roux met his first wife, Michelle. They moved to the US for six months, and then to Perth, Australia, where they married, and le Roux acquired Australian citizenship.
Le Roux became increasingly concerned by the threat of mass government surveillance. To combat this threat, he developed his own encryption software, called E4M (Encryption for the Masses).
He released the software as open-source in 1999 on a cryptography mailing list. He also built a website for the software, and answered user questions about how best to use it and the ramifications of its existence. A manifesto page on his site said:
“Strong Encryption is the mechanism with which to combat these intrusions, preserve your rights, and guarantee your freedoms into the information age and beyond.”
Notice here the similarity between how Le Roux shared his E4M encryption software and the way Satoshi revealed Bitcoin. Both were announced on cryptography mailing lists, both had sites built shortly thereafter, and both Le Roux and Satoshi personally answered user queries about how the invention worked for a number of years before moving on to other things.
Throughout much of his early working life, Le Roux was in a difficult financial position. He realized it probably wasn’t wise to have released E4M as open-source, because he couldn’t profit from it. So he sought to monetize it by building a company which would customize the E4M software for clients and offer separate offshore programming services.
One of Le Roux’s clients, Wilfred Hafner, approached him with a business proposition. Hafner’s company SecurStar needed help building an encryption product called DriveCrypt. So if Le Roux would give up developing E4M, they could work together and both profit. Le Roux agreed, and they set to work. Those who worked with him described him as an exceptionally gifted programmer whose ideas greatly helped the project.
Before long, however, Le Roux started borrowing some of DriveCrypt’s features and installing them into E4M. It wasn’t long before Hafner discovered what Le Roux was up to and promptly fired him. Shortly thereafter, Le Roux relocated to Hong Kong and then Rotterdam to find work.
When he wasn’t contracting, Le Roux developed a gaming engine for an online casino he planned to launch in Canada and Romania. The engine itself was apparently quite impressive, but Le Roux struggled to market the concept to investors. He would eventually give up on the idea on his lawyer’s advice.
However, those who think Le Roux is Satoshi suggest he didn’t actually give up on his gambling software at all, and that he included some of it in Bitcoin’s code.
Online Prescription Drugs Sites and Call Centers
A new encryption software heavily based on Le Roux’s E4M was released in 2004, called TrueCrypt. The team who built it were and still are anonymous, but many people suspected Le Roux was involved. In response to these accusations, Le Roux said, “the pure speculation here (often stated as fact) is damaging and in some cases libelous.”
After giving up on his gambling software, Le Roux launched several online prescription drugs sites and call centers which, over the following ten years, would become enormously lucrative.
Here’s how they worked: Customers would fill out their medical information in a questionnaire, select the drug they wanted, and pay for it with a credit card. The questionnaires were sent to US doctors, who wrote the prescriptions and sent them to US pharmacies. The pharmacies filled and shipped the drugs orders around the US. The doctors and pharmacists would receive a commission for every order they filled, and Le Roux made millions in profit from the get-go.
These pharmacies operated in a legally gray area: what they were doing wasn’t explicitly illegal because they prevented anyone buying large quantities of medicine in bulk, and they kept records of every purchase. But things changed when the US government banned sales of a muscle relaxant called Soma, cutting Le Roux’s profits by a third.
To make back some of the lost cash, Le Roux started smuggling pharmaceuticals from Mexico into the US. And with that decision, Le Roux’s business slipped out of a legal gray area and into the criminal underworld.
Over the years that followed, Le Roux set up call centers all over the world: in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in various European cities, and in the Philippines. By 2010, he operated ten call centers which employed more than a thousand people.
Two of Le Roux’s Israeli employees came up with a plan to open their own pharmacy in the US in a way that would benefit them and Le Roux’s existing online pharmaceutical business. They discussed these plans openly, and assumed Le Roux and his associates would be open minded. However, when Le Roux found out about their plans, he assumed they were planning to launch a rival business, and responded violently.
He instructed one of the Israelis to meet with his enforcer, a man called Dave Smith, in the Philippines. The man understood Smith to be a partner or manager, and not an enforcer. Smith took the man out to sea on a boat, threw him overboard, and shot at him. While they splashed around in the water, Smith accused him of double crossing Le Roux and trying to steal his business. When Smith learned that the plan would actually benefit Le Roux, he allowed the man back onto the boat.
This would be the first of many violent incidents throughout Le Roux’s career as a criminal.
Satoshi Nakamoto started developing Bitcoin sometime around the end of 2007, and he first shared his ideas for this “a new electronic cash system” in October 2008.
During that same period, Le Roux spent about $12 million leasing farmland in Zimbabwe and lobbying then President Robert Mugabe to allow him and other white farmers to use the land. This, Le Roux said, was in response to the controversial land seizure program in the early 2000’s, wherein Mugabe’s government seized land that belonged to white landowners and gave it to Zimbabweans. “We want recognition that injustice was done in the past and that the land-reform program corrects that," Le Roux told The Hill, in what was his only public statement not from behind bars.
Le Roux was still running his many businesses at the same time, mostly out of Manila and Hong Kong. He moved into logging, precious metal mining, gold smuggling, land deals, drug shipments, arms trafficking, and money laundering, all in a short space of time. He carried out these activities in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Columbia, Brazil, and all over Africa, and he laundered the proceeds using gold bars and diamonds, which his associates bought and stored in Hong Kong and later shipped to Manila.
“He had a group of Romanian programmers in an office. They were discussing online currency. This was in 2007-2008 before Bitcoin was released.”
Another source told Ratliff that Le Roux once told them:
“If you want to make money—real money—you need to do like the North Koreans who print it…or just make your own currency.”
Le Roux started taking more serious steps to cover his tracks between 2007 and 2008. His businesses now operated through various shell companies spread out across the world, and he would only travel using one of his fake passports, which included a Congolese diplomatic passport. This allowed him to freely work all over Africa, in Somalia in particular, where he supplied weapons to Somali militias despite an arms embargo being in place.
From 2008 onwards, Le Roux’s criminal empire became increasingly violent. He personally ordered his cousin and employee Matthew Smith’s house be firebombed over a financial dispute. Another of Le Roux’s employees – Bruce Jones – botched a delivery of assault rifles and began working with the police. They didn’t put Jones into witness protection, however, and he was assassinated outside a gun range in Manila. His wife was shot once, but she survived. Another employee, Michael Lontoc, was also assassinated in his car at a busy junction in Manila by four gunmen operating on Le Roux’s orders.
Le Roux also ordered the murders of a customs agent - Noimie Edillor – for taking his bribe to accept illegal goods through customs but failing to follow through. He also ordered the death of a real estate agent whose partner ran off with $1.1 million of Le Roux’s money. In the latter murder, two of Le Roux’s associates posed as Canadian buyers and spent three days viewing houses with the agent before murdering her and leaving her body in a field.
The US authorities were surprisingly behind the curve when it came to Le Roux, probably thanks to his advanced knowledge of encryption and his decades of experience hiding his identity. At the outset of 2012, they were still only interested in him because of his online pharmaceutical business, which was still going gangbusters. That was until they bugged Le Roux’s phones, which gave the US intelligence agencies some desperately needed insight into Le Roux’s empire.
US agents heard a phone call in which Le Roux told his wife not to buy property in the Netherlands because it could be easily confiscated were he arrested. This told them Le Roux was certainly a crook, the only question was: what’s he into?
Captured by the DEA
That question was answered when agents heard another call in which Le Roux organized two shipments of drugs into Ecuador.
Le Roux was approached by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents posing as members of a Colombian Cartel. They told him they wanted to set up a methamphetamine business in Liberia, which would export meth to New York. Le Roux would supply the chemicals, a lab, and a chemist, and he would be paid in cocaine.
The DEA agents weren’t able to extract Le Roux from Brazil at this point, so they arranged to meet him in Liberia, on the West Coast of Africa. Le Roux was arrested the day after he arrived. He tried to bribe his way out, but the arresting officers handed him over to the DEA, who flew him to the US where he was charged with conspiracy to import narcotics. The following day, he signed a proffer agreement in which he pled guilty to two crimes in exchange for immunity against any other charges to which he might later admit his guilt. This turned out to include seven murders.
Source: The New York Times
The US authorities kept Le Roux’s capture a secret and turned him against his criminal co-conspirators. He started passing emails from his associates and the cartels to US officials right away, and was allowed to continue running his business from prison to keep up appearances. Over an eighteen-month period, Le Roux led eleven of his former associates into sting operations that led to their arrests.
Le Roux’s case went to trial in December 2014. He pleaded guilty to trafficking methamphetamine into the US, selling technology to Iran, ordering or participating in seven murders, as well as fraud and bribery. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with the judge saying:
“The scope and severity of Mr. Le Roux's criminal conduct is nothing short of breathtaking. I have before me a man who has engaged in conduct in keeping with the villain in a James Bond movie.”
He is expected to be deported to the Philippines to stand trial there in relation to the murders once he finishes his US sentence.
Paul Le Roux’s name had not once been mentioned as a candidate to be Satoshi until 2019, seven years after he was arrested.
The first circumstantial evidence that Le Roux might be involved in Bitcoin appeared during the Kleiman v. Wright lawsuit (Wright is an Australian businessman who claims he is Satoshi). Wright filed a motion for a protective order which would have prevented him from having to disclose who helped him to develop Bitcoin. He claimed that disclosing the names could put them in danger, or even “implicate national security concerns.”
As soon as journalists discovered the unredacted footnote, Paul Le Roux went viral: almost immediately, people suggested he was Bitcoin’s creator and that Wright had somehow gained access to his hard drives and stolen Satoshi’s identity from him.
This theory was backed up when Evan Ratliff, who wrote a book about Le Roux called “The Mastermind,” spoke with one of Le Roux’s employees who was in prison. The associate told Ratliff that Le Roux had indeed invented Bitcoin, or at least was working on developing a digital currency at the time Satoshi released Bitcoin. The associate, however, couldn’t offer any concrete proof to substantiate their claim.
Before long, Reddit and Twitter were saturated with theories about Le Roux and his possible involvement in Bitcoin. It was quickly pointed out that Le Roux’s arrest in 2012 would explain why Satoshi hadn’t returned to the forums since the middle of 2011. And when his Congolese ID with the name “Solotshi” leaked, crypto Twitter practically went into a full-on meltdown.
Out of nowhere, it seems, Paul Le Roux – a criminal mastermind - overtook a host of famous cryptographers to become the leading contender to be Satoshi Nakamoto, all thanks to a mistakenly unredacted footnote.
The Evidence Paul Le Roux Is Likely Satoshi Nakamoto
#1 The Timing
Le Roux was arrested less than a year after Satoshi disappeared, in April 2011.
His arrest and subsequent incarceration would explain why Satoshi hasn’t contacted anyone since then.
#2 Interest in Gambling Software
Le Roux was developing gambling and gaming software during the years leading up to when Satoshi began developing Bitcoin, between late 2007 and early 2008.
The first public version of Bitcoin contained GUI code for a poker game, which Satoshi never explained himself, and nobody else has offered a plausible explanation for it, besides vague guesses like “maybe he worked in gambling”.
If Le Roux did create Bitcoin, it’s conceivable that he would have included some kind of gambling or gaming code into the early versions, as he probably didn’t know which direction the world’s first cryptocurrency would take off in.
In fact, Le Roux’s experience in gambling ticks a box than none of the other Satoshi candidates tick (besides Craig Wright).
#3 His Technical Skills
Le Roux has extensive programming experience as well as work experience in cryptography – possibly for GCHQ.
And given that he completed a one-year programming course in eight weeks, it’s fair to say that he probably had the coding skills to have developed Bitcoin.
#4 E4M Emerged in a Similar Way to Bitcoin
Le Roux’s first solo programming project was an open-source, public encryption software called E4M. The way he announced and then launched it was remarkably similar to the way Satoshi launched Bitcoin.
Le Roux spent years privately working on E4M before anyone else heard about it. He announced it on a cryptography mailing list – which probably surprised people as nobody knew such software was even in development. Then he set up a dedicated site for the software – e4m.net – through which users could download the software, and developers could inspect its open-source code. And finally, he answered questions from early adopters about how he developed the software, and how people should use it.
Satoshi followed this exact sequence of actions when he developed Bitcoin: he shared it with a cryptography mailing group, set up a dedicated site, and then answered user and developer questions on the forums.
#5 Plans To Start a Bitcoin Business
He also told the judge that he had already designed some hardware specially built for Bitcoin mining. He said:
“I have a custom design for an ASIC chip that utilizes special optimizations in the underlying computer code or algorithm known as (‘SHA’). I obtained this knowledge about the mathematical properties of SHA, while working as a contract programmer at GCHQ in London in the early 2000’s.”
The Evidence That Paul Le Roux Probably Isn’t Satoshi Nakamoto
#1 Evan Ratliff Found No Evidence
Evan Ratliff, who spent five years tracking Le Roux’s movements and business operations, found no hard evidence that Le Roux was Satoshi.
He spoke with Le Roux’s associates in Manila and in prison, some of whom claimed that Le Roux had discussed Bitcoin and possibly developing a digital currency, but nothing tangible or that constituted a smoking gun.
If Le Roux did develop Bitcoin, we would expect there to be some kind of paper trail proving how and when he did so, but this has never emerged.
#2 Language Dissimilar From the Bitcoin Whitepaper
The language with which Satoshi wrote the Bitcoin whitepaper has been analyzed many times. The various analyses have found his style matched various candidates, although Nick Szabo’s name most commonly crops up. No analysis has ever found that Le Roux’s writing matched up with Satoshi’s.
And if you just compare their writings side-by-side, you can see Le Roux employs a casual, laid-back style and vocabulary. Whereas Satoshi’s writings are academic in style and, at certain points, quite stuffy.
If Le Roux did write the Bitcoin whitepaper, he would have needed to alter his style and lexicon considerably, and there’s no evidence that he did so.
#3 Coding Differences Between E4M and Bitcoin
Greg Maxwell, a Bitcoin developer, compared Le Roux’s E4m code with Bitcoin to see if there were any similarities. He found that both programs followed unusual (but dissimilar) formatting styles, and that E4M contained more extensive comments explaining how Le Roux made decisions than Bitcoin contained.
“If they were written by the same person that person’s styles changed a lot,” Maxwell said.
#4 None of Le Roux’s Online Businesses Accept Bitcoin
This is a bit speculative, but it’s worth noting that Le Roux’s online pharma business didn’t accept Bitcoin.
If he was Satoshi, wouldn’t his businesses have been among the first to accept Bitcoin, if only to show it was possible and to encourage other businesses to do the same?
So, do you think Paul Le Roux created Bitcoin?