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 staff 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,” the statement said, adding that “everything points to death by suicide.”
The statement didn’t identify Mr. 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 Mr. McAfee.
Spain’s National Court on Monday ruled in favour of extraditing Mr. 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.
The entrepreneur was arrested last October at Barcelona’s international airport. A judge ordered at that time that Mr. McAfee should be held in jail while awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings.
Mr. McAfee had been charged the same month in Tennessee with 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.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Memphis declined to comment Wednesday.
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.
Mr. 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 July, 2019, he was released from detention in the Dominican Republic after he and five others were suspected of travelling on a yacht carrying high-calibre weapons, ammunition and military-style gear, officials on the Caribbean island said at the time.
Mr. McAfee told Wired Magazine in 2012 that his father, a heavy drinker and “very unhappy man,” shot himself when Mr. McAfee was 15. “Every day I wake up with him,” he told Wired.
In an interview with British newspaper The Independent, Mr. McAfee said his experience of being in a Spanish prison was a “fascinating adventure” and he planned never to return to the U.S.
“I am constantly amused and sometimes moved. The graffiti alone could fill a thousand-page thriller,” he was quoted as saying. “A few of my fellow prisoners have confided in me small pieces of their lives.”
He also told The Independent that prisoners and guards had recognized him and some asked for his autograph.
Mr. 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.
The U.S. embassy in Madrid didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
California chip maker Intel, which bought McAfee’s company in 2011 for US$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.
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