January 17 (Business Insider) – In 2013, British IT worker James Howells accidentally threw away a hard drive with a digital wallet containing 7,500 little known and virtually worthless Bitcoin.
Fast forward, and at the time of writing, Bitcoin is trading at around $37,000, and his store would be worth in the region of $275 million.
Now, the Newport, Wales, local has offered his city council a vast sum of money if it allows him to excavate a landfill site where he believes the hard drive has been disposed of.
Howells told CNN: “I offered to donate 25% or £52.5 million ($71.7 million) to the city of Newport in order to distribute to all local residents who live in Newport should I find and recover the Bitcoins.
“This would work out to approx £175 ($239) per person for the entire city (316,000 population). Unfortunately, they refused the offer and won’t even have a face to face discussion with me on the matter.”
Howells had mined the Bitcoin over the course of four years when cryptocurrencies were still in their infancy and worth very little. Howells threw the hard drive away between June and August 2013, believing he’d already backed up the files he needed from it.
He first realized his mistake, he told BBC News, when the price of Bitcoin spiked from $150 to $1,000, and his wallet was worth around $6 million in 2013.
After visiting the landfill, Howells told the BBC he thought he had “no chance” of retrieving his hard drive. However, he now has a new plan to find it.
Howells told CNN Friday: “The plan would be to dig a specific area of the landfill based on a grid reference system and recover the hard drive whilst adhering to all safety and environmental standards.
“The drive would then be presented to data recovery specialists who can rebuild the drive from scratch with new parts and attempt to recover the tiny piece of data that I need in order to access the Bitcoins.”
“The value of the hard drive is over £200m (around $273 million), and I’m happy to share a portion of that with the people of Newport should I be given the opportunity to search for it. Approximately 50% would be for investors who put up the capital to fund the project, and I would be left with the remaining 25%,” he added.
However, in a statement to CNN, a Newport City Council spokeswoman said it was not allowed to excavate the site.
She said: “The council has told Mr Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licensing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.
“The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds — without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order.”
Howells is, at least, not alone in his misfortune: The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Bitcoins in lost wallets account for around 20% of the existing 18.5 million Bitcoin — worth a total of $140 billion.
Wallet Recovery Services, a firm that helps recover lost digital keys, told the Times that it received 70 requests a day from users trying to access their digital wallets — a number that is three times higher than it was a month ago.