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John McAfee: antivirus entrepreneur found dead in Spanish prison

McAfee’s extradition to the US on tax charges had been approved hours earlier

The antivirus software entrepreneur John McAfee has been found dead in his cell in Spain from an apparent suicide, hours after the country’s highest court approved his extradition to the United States, where he was wanted on tax-related criminal charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Catalan’s regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, confirmed a report in El País that McAfee, 75, had been found dead in the Brians 2 prison near Barcelona, late on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Catalan justice department said that prison officers and medics had tried to save the life of a 75-year-old man but had been unsuccessful.

“Judicial staff have been dispatched to the prison and are investigating the causes of death,” the statement said, adding: “Everything points to death by suicide.”

McAfee’s lawyer told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday evening that McAfee had apparently hanged himself in his prison cell.

Tax offenses

McAfee, the creator of the McAfee virus software, was arrested last October at Barcelona’s international airport as he was about to board a flight to Istanbul.

The arrest of the entrepreneur came a day after authorities had made public a US indictment stemming from alleged tax offenses. Tennessee prosecutors had charged McAfee with evading taxes after failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consultancy work, as well as income from speaking engagements and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary.

On Wednesday, Spain’s highest court had approved McAfee’s extradition to the United States, although the decision could be appealed and the extradition would have had to be approved by the Spanish cabinet.

“The court agrees to grant the extradition of John David McAfee as requested by the American judicial authorities for the crimes referred to in the tax offense indictments for years 2016 to 2018,” read the 16-page ruling.

Erratic behavior

Since making a fortune in the 1980s with the softwarethat still bears his name, McAfee had engaged in increasingly erratic behavior, most recently as a self-styled cryptocurrency guru claiming to make $2,000 a day.

His namesake company ultimately became a household entity in antivirus security, but tried to distance itself from its controversial founder after he resigned in 1994.

McAfee was purchased by the computer chip maker Intel in 2010 for $7.7bn and was folded into Intel’s larger cybersecurity division. The rebranding was short-lived, and Intel in 2016 spun out the cybersecurity unit into a new company called McAfee.

McAfee’s personal life often drew as much interest as his professional achievements. He twice made long-shot runs for the US presidency and was a participant in Libertarian party presidential debates in 2016. He dabbled in yoga, ultra-light aircraft and producing herbal medications.

He frequently touted conspiracy theories on social media, and became the subject of frenzied media scrutiny following the unsolved 2012 murder of a neighbor in Belize.

When the police found him living with a 17-year-old girl and discovered a large arsenal of weapons in his home in the Central American country, McAfee disappeared on a month-long flight that drew breathless media coverage. McAfee said he knew nothing about the murder, but was worried he might have been the attacker’s intended target.

The dead neighbor’s family later filed a wrongful death suit against McAfee and last year a court in Florida ruled against him, ordering him to pay the family more than $25m.

In 2015, McAfee was arrested in the US for driving under the influence and possession of a gun while under the influence.

In July 2019, he was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of traveling on a yacht carrying high-calibre weapons, ammunition and military-style gear, officials in the Caribbean island said at the time.

In March, he was charged in a Manhattan federal court over a pump and dump scheme involving cryptocurrencies he was promoting to his large social media following.

In a hearing held via video link earlier this month in Spain, McAfee had argued that the charges against him were politically motivated and said he would spend the rest of his life in prison if he was returned to the US.

In an interview with British newspaper the Independent, McAfee said his experience of being in a Spanish prison was a “fascinating adventure” and he planned never to return to the US.

His main point of contact outside the prison, McAfee said, was his wife, Janice. 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.

Conspiracy theorists have already seized on McAfee’s death, editing his Wikipedia page to state he was murdered. McAfee’s apparent suicide comes after he shared tweets about the poor conditions in prison, stating “there is much sorrow in prison, disguised as hostility”.

Hours after his death, a post featuring the letter Q was shared to McAfee’s Instagram account. The image is probably a reference to QAnon – the baseless conspiracy theory that there exists a secret world order of satanic pedophiles being battled in secret by Donald Trump.

The Guardian

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