Antivirus software pioneer John McAfee found dead in Spanish prison cell

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Millionaire John McAfee gesturing during an interview with AFP on his yacht anchored at the Marina Hemingway in Havana - AFP
Millionaire John McAfee gesturing during an interview with AFP on his yacht anchored at the Marina Hemingway in Havana - AFP

John McAfee, the founder of antivirus software McAfee, reportedly died by suicide in his prison cell in Barcelona on Wednesday, after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the US on tax evasion charges.

The 75-year-old British-American eccentric tech entrepreneur was arrested at Barcelona Airport in October last year for allegedly failing to pay taxes on years of income.

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, officers at Brians 2 prison found Mr McAfee dead shortly after the court decision and are investigating the cause.

In a statement, the Catalan justice department said that prison officers and medics had tried to save his life, but were 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.”

Mr McAfee, who was born in Gloucestershire on a US Army base to an American father and British mother, is alleged to have deliberately failed to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018, despite earning millions from consulting work, crypto-currencies and selling the rights to his life story.

If convicted, he would have faced up to 30 years in prison.

According to the US extradition request filed in November and quoted in the ruling, Mr McAfee earned more than €10 million over that period but never filed a tax return.

Founder of the first commercial anti-virus program that bore his name, John McAfee listens during the 4th China Internet Security Conference (ISC) in Beijing - AP
Founder of the first commercial anti-virus program that bore his name, John McAfee listens during the 4th China Internet Security Conference (ISC) in Beijing - AP

"From 2014 to 2018, the defendant earned more than 10 million euros in income and therefore accumulated millions of dollars in tax liabilities. He did not file tax returns during any of those years," it said.

"To conceal his income and assets from the Internal Revenue Service... the defendant ordered part of his income to be paid to straw men and placed property in their names."

Carlos Bautista, the Spanish prosecutor, dismissed the accusation made by Mr McAfee that the charges were politically motivated.

The Spanish court authorised the extradition, but only to face charges related to his tax returns for 2016, 2017 and 2018 as the prosecution had asked.

In a hearing earlier this month, Mr McAfee pleaded with the judge, saying given his age, almost 76, he would spend the rest of his life in jail if he were to be convicted in the US.

“I am hoping that the Spanish court will see the injustice of this,' he said, adding 'the United States wants to use me as an example.”

In March, Mr McAfee was also charged in Manhattan federal court for running two schemes to defraud crypto investors out of about $13million.

Since making a fortune with his eponymous antivirus software in the 1980s that still bears his name, Mr McAfee has become a self-styled crypto-currency guru, claiming to make $2,000 a day.

He led a colourful life in his latter years. In 2012, he disappeared from his home in Belize after the local police sought him for questioning over the death of his neighbour, who was found with a bullet in his head. The millionaire was never criminally charged with the murder and he always strenuously denied it.

Mr McAfee spoke to The Telegraph during that time, saying he believed he would face "summary execution" if he gave himself up to Belize police. He said he was on the run and was wearing a disguise.

McAfee gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Guatemala City in 2012 - Reuters
McAfee gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Guatemala City in 2012 - Reuters

It was around this time the former teetotaller started posting to a website for recreational drug users called Bluelight, in which he described his experiments with various types of bath salts. He had become entangled with allegations of bribery, underage prostitution, rape, and murder.

He resurfaced in Guatemala City a few weeks later, then largely dropped out of the public eye for years - until 2016, when he tried to run as a Libertarian candidate for president of the US.

In 2019, Reuters reported that Mr McAfee was briefly in Britain after being detained with his wife Janice, 38, for entering the Dominican Republic with firearms on his yacht.

Mr McAfee’s software firm was bought by Intel in 2010 for $7.7 billion, which sold its majority stake six years later to the investment firm TPG. Mr. McAfee has not been associated with the company since the 1990s.

In a tweet on June 16, he said the US authorities believed he had "hidden crypto. I wish I did ... My remaining assets are all seized. My friends evaporated through fear of association. I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing."

In 2019, he posted a cryptic message on Twitter to his more than a million followers, revealing a new tattoo on his arm, reading: “$Whackd”.

“Getting subtle messages from US officials saying, in effect: "We're coming for you McAfee! We're going to kill yourself". I got a tattoo today just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn't. I was whackd. Check my right arm.”

In one of his final tweets, from April, he tweeted: “The worst thing about Spanish prisons is the food.”

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