From software mogul to 'tax fugitive' and crypto evangelist, the stormy life of John McAfee
John David McAfee (75), the founder of the anti-virus software marketed under his name, was found dead at a Spanish prison on Thursday. News agencies quoted McAfee's lawyer, Javier Villalba, as stating that he died by hanging as his nine months in prison "brought him to despair".
The incident comes after Spain's National Court approved his extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on tax-related criminal charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years. The decision can be appealed and the final extradition will need to be approved by the Spanish cabinet.
Tennessee prosecutors charged 75-year-old 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. The charges refer to the three fiscal years from 2016 to 2018, according to the Spanish court's ruling on Wednesday.
The entrepreneur was arrested last October at Barcelona's international airport. A judge ordered at that time that McAfee should be held in jail while awaiting the outcome of a hearing on extradition. In a hearing held via videolink earlier this month, McAfee 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.
McAfee's stormy life
After working for General Electric, Siemens, NASA and Lockheed Martin, McAfee had launched his commercial anti-virus firm in 1987, which he later sold to Intel for $7.68 billion. His early life and relationship with his father seemed to be at the centre of everything he did. As BBC reported, his father was an abusive alcoholic who, when McAfee was aged 15, shot himself dead. He started his antivirus company in response to 1987 after Brain, the first virus to attack personal computers, was unleashed from Pakistan; McAfee stated that "it reminded him of the way his father would suddenly attack him", Wired reported. He had a drug habit, which he spoke about in interviews.
In 2008, he moved to the Central American country of Belize, reason unknown. Multiple news reports claimed he wanted to research bacteria and develop life-saving antibiotics, but things reached a head when he was accused of shooting and killing his neighbour, and the local law enforcement raided his home accusing him of "being a narco-trafficker and raising a militia". He fled the country in 2012, and was arrested from Gautemala where he had sought political asylum.
In 2015, he launched a long-shot bid in the US presidential polls, fighting as the libertarian candidate. As news agency reported, in 2019, he said that he had not paid US income taxes for eight years for ideological reasons. He fled US, and lived for years on his yacht.
He told Cuba he could help the country escape US sanctions by the use of cryptocurrencies. In 2020, reported that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had accused McAfee of promoting initial coin offerings—deals for cryptocurrencies—on Twitter without disclosing that he had been paid to do so, to the tune of more than $23 million. On June 16, he tweeted: "The US believes I have hidden crypto. I wish I did but it has dissolved through the many hands of Team McAfee [your belief is not required], and my remaining assets are all seized. My friends evaporated through fear of association. I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing."
McAfee was a prolific social media user. In his last tweet, on June 18, he had stated that "all power corrupts" and warned against "which powers you could allow a democracy to wield".