Antivirus pioneer John McAfee found dead in Spanish prison
Published Wednesday, June 23, 2021 11:53AM EDT Last Updated Thursday, June 24, 2021 4:09AM EDT
In this Sept. 9, 2015, file photo, internet security pioneer John McAfee announces his candidacy for president in Opelika, Ala. (Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News via AP, File)
MADRID -- John McAfee, the creator of McAfee antivirus software, was found dead in his jail cell near Barcelona in an apparent suicide Wednesday, hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States to face tax charges punishable by decades in prison, authorities said.
The eccentric cryptocurrency promoter and tax opponent whose history of legal troubles spanned from Tennessee to Central America to the Caribbean was discovered at the Brians 2 penitentiary in northeastern Spain. Security personnel tried to revive him, but the jail's medical team finally certified his death, a statement from the regional Catalan government said.
"A judicial delegation has arrived to investigate the causes of death," it said, adding that "everything points to death by suicide."
The statement didn't identify McAfee by name but said the dead man was a 75-year-old U.S. citizen awaiting extradition to his country. A Catalan government official familiar with the case who was not authorized to be named in media reports confirmed to The Associated Press that it was McAfee.
Spain's National Court on Monday ruled in favor of extraditing McAfee, 75, who had argued in a hearing earlier this month that the charges against him by prosecutors in Tennessee were politically motivated and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison if returned to the U.S.
The court's ruling was made public on Wednesday and was open for appeal, with any final extradition order also needing to get approval from the Spanish Cabinet.
McAfee was arrested last October at Barcelona's international airport and had been in jail since then awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings. The arrest followed charges the same month in Tennessee for evading taxes after failing to report income from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consulting work, made speaking engagements and sold the rights to his life story for a documentary. The criminal charges carried a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
Nishay Sanan, the Chicago-based attorney defending him on those cases, said by phone that McAfee "will always be remembered as a fighter."
"He tried to love this country but the U.S. government made his existence impossible," Sanan said. "They tried to erase him, but they failed."
The lawyer said Spanish authorities have not given his legal team a cause of death, and he wants to know if there were video cameras in McAfee's cell or in the prison.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Memphis declined to comment.
Tennessee prosecutors had argued that McAfee owed the U.S. government $4,214,105 in taxes before fines or interests for undeclared income in the five fiscal years from 2014 to 2018, according to a Spanish court document seen by AP. But in this week's ruling, the National Court judge agreed to extradite him only to face charges from 2016 to 2018.
Born in England's Gloucestershire in 1945 as John David McAfee, he started McAfee Associates in 1987 and led an eccentric life after selling his stake in the antivirus software company named after him in the early 1990s.
McAfee twice made long-shot runs for the U.S. presidency and was a participant in Libertarian Party presidential debates in 2016. He dabbled in yoga, ultralight aircraft and producing herbal medications.
In 2012 he was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death in early November 2012 on the Belize island where the men lived.
McAfee told AP at the time that he was being persecuted by the Belizean government. Belizean police denied that, saying they were simply investigating a crime about which McAfee may have had information. Then-Prime Minister Dean Barrow expressed doubts about McAfee's mental state, saying, "I don't want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers."
A Florida court ordered McAfee in 2019 to pay $25 million to Faull's estate in a wrongful death claim.
In July of that year he was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of traveling on a yacht carrying high-caliber weapons, ammunition and military-style gear.
McAfee told Wired Magazine in 2012 that his father, a heavy drinker and "very unhappy man," shot himself when McAfee was 15. "Every day I wake up with him," he told Wired.
He lived for a time in Lexington, Tennessee, a rural town of about 7,800 some 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Memphis. In a 2015 interview with WBBJ-TV, McAfee said he only felt comfortable when armed. The TV station reported that he chose to be interviewed with a loaded gun in each hand.
"Very little gives me a feeling of being safe and more secure other than being armed in my bedroom with the door locked," McAfee told the station.
In one of his last known media interviews, with British newspaper The Independent last November, McAfee said his prison experience in Spain was a "fascinating adventure" and he planned never to return to the U.S.
"I am constantly amused and sometimes moved," he was quoted as saying. "The graffiti alone could fill a thousand-page thriller."
He also told The Independent that prisoners and guards had recognized him and some asked for his autograph.
McAfee said his main point of contact outside the prison was his wife, Janice McAfee. The last post from his Twitter account was a retweet of a Father's Day message from her.
"These eight months John has spent in prison in Spain have been especially hard on his overall health both mentally and physically, as well as financially, but he is undeterred from continuing to speak truth to power," it said.
California chipmaker Intel, which bought McAfee's company in 2011 for $7.68 billion, for a time sought to dissociate the brand from its controversial founder by folding it into its larger cybersecurity division. But the rebranding was short-lived, and Intel in 2016 spun out the cybersecurity unit into a new company called McAfee.
Jaime Le, a McAfee company spokesperson, said in a statement: "Although John McAfee founded the company, he has not been associated with our company in any capacity for over 25 years. That said, our thoughts go to his family and those close to him."
A spokesperson with the U.S. Embassy in Madrid said it was aware of the reports about McAfee's death but would not comment for privacy reasons.
Brito reported from Barcelona and Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tenn., Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, Calif., David Hamilton in San Francisco and Matt O'Brien in Providence, R.I., contributed.