Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way: Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s brother, Roberto Escobar, is launching a new cryptocurrency called “Dietbitcoin.” It’s a clone of Bitcoin of the kind that can take mere minutes to create, with no changes or improvements whatsoever. But Escobar Inc. is nonetheless hawking virtual coins for $2 USD each now, and $1,000 in later rounds of the crowd sale.
Now here’s the good shit. Along with Dietbitcoin’s launch came a 280-page book, part memoir and part manifesto, titled “Pablo Escobar’s Dietbitcoin: The True Story by Roberto Escobar.” Roberto allegedly authored the book—when I reached Escobar Inc. for an interview the company said he was not available, but CEO Olof Gustafsson told me over the phone that Roberto wrote it.
In it, Roberto claims that he had a close encounter with a US government agent posing as the pseudonymous creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. This encounter led Roberto to conclude that the US government created Bitcoin and will one day crash the market by selling all of Nakamoto’s stashed bitcoins.
The veracity of this tale is highly suspect; Roberto Escobar is a well-known eccentric who once claimed to have cured HIV with his knowledge of horses. The book mentions email interactions with John McAfee, and we’ve reached out to him to confirm this account but have not yet heard back.
Regardless, it’s an absolutely ripping yarn. Let’s take a closer look shall we?
Dietbitcoin’s story begins, as the book tells it, with Roberto sitting in his deceased brother’s old house, thinking, “what has happened to the world? What has happened to the world?” the next morning he learned about cryptocurrencies in a news article and called up two associates—going by El Silenco and El Coneja. Roberto said he was interested in creating his own cryptocurrency. Weeks later, he got a call from El Conejo.
El Conejo is telling me that he is talking to Satoshi Nakamoto. He is not just talking. He is with him right now in Lima, Peru. I said, “ El Conejo, I do not know who this man is. Bring him to my house.” El Conejo responded “OK.”
The meeting never materialized, but Roberto nonetheless agreed to start a new cryptocurrency with the help of the person claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym used by the person or people who invented Bitcoin. As the book tells it, Roberto became suspicious when the would-be Satoshi sent a photo of their alleged passport, which stated that their name was legally Satoshi Nakamoto.
El Conejo then attempted to convince Roberto to meet the alleged Nakamoto in New York, which increased his suspicion. He declined and stayed at his home in Medellin, Colombia. Later, a tour bus stopped in front of his house (this isn’t outside of the norm, as the book tells it) and one person in particular asked a few too many questions. Roberto sent the man’s photo to his contacts, who reported back that the man's name was Miguel Caña and was an informant working for the FBI.
(In a phone call, Escobar Inc. CEO Olof Gustafsson told me that Caña “is in fact a CIA operative and this is a program that was done by the CIA.”)
Later, Roberto got a call from an associate in Los Angeles, who told him that she found someone who knew the real identity of the nosy tourist who went by Miguel Caña. The associate confirmed that Caña was in LA, the book says, meaning Caña was in Colombia, LA, and—Roberto concluded—Lima, Peru, where he posed as Satoshi Nakamoto. Near the end of the book, Roberto does the literary equivalent of James T. Kirk screaming “Khaaaaaaaan!”
Miguel Caña what’s your real name? Show your face Miguel. Do not come to my house and ask me questions to find out about cryptocurrencies and infiltrate Escobar Incorporated by sending us e-mails, and phone calls while you and your people are pretending to be Satoshi Nakamoto. Miguel Caña show your face! I am writing this book for you to show your real face, and tell the world who you really are, Miguel Caña.
Roberto remains convinced that Caña posed as Satoshi Nakamoto, although “I don’t know if Miguel Caña is the person that pushes the button for the American Government to sell $10 Billion Dollars’ worth of Bitcoin,” the book says. However:
I can tell you with one-hundred percent certainty, one-thousand percent certainty, one-hundred-million percent certainty that the American Government is going to ruin it all because they are behind the Bitcoin.
And so, we have Dietbitcoin. A fork of Bitcoin with no changes to the code whatsoever, and yet promises to be “faster” and “lighter” than Bitcoin, which has faced network congestion problems in the past due to technical limitations and high traffic. When I asked Gustafsson for how long Dietbitcoin is guaranteed to be faster than Bitcoin, he said, “I think it’s going to be for a little bit, until people realize this is a superior currency,” and, “If at some point it’s not faster, we may transfer this from one blockchain to another.”
Dietbitcoin’s real pitch is that it’s controlled by a central company instead of a bunch of fighting nerds like Bitcoin. “The reason it’s superior is because we have central management,” Gustafsson said. Escobar Inc. may start its own cryptocurrency exchange, Gustafsson said, which would allow the company to help merchants convert their Dietbitcoin to fiat currency quickly with an instant buyback guarantee. Central management has other advantages; Roberto is “very, very persuasive in his negotiations,” Olafsson said.
Of course, centralized control cuts against the grain of Bitcoin’s entire raison d’etre, which was to use math and economics to remove the need for central authorities mediating financial transactions. It injects an element of trust into cryptocurrency—in Gustafsson, in Roberto Escobar, and their associates—where it wasn’t so critical before. So the question for potential investors in Dietbitcoin is: Do you trust Roberto Escobar?
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .