Antivirus software pioneer John McAfee was found dead in his prison cell near Barcelona on Wednesday, hours after Spain’s High Court ruled he could be extradited to the United States, where he faced tax evasion charges that carried a jail sentence of up to 30 years.
McAfee apparently hanged himself, his lawyer told Reuters news agency.
A spokeswoman for Catalonia’s Justice Department said his death appeared to be suicide but the final cause would be determined by an autopsy.
A jail source told Reuters that the software entrepreneur was sharing his cell with another inmate, but was alone when he died.
The creator of the world’s first commercial anti-virus software that was launched in 1987, McAfee was dogged by legal problems.
According to Spanish court documents seen by The Associated Press news agency, US federal prosecutors in Tennessee had charged McAfee with tax evasion and willfully failing to file tax returns to disclose more than $4.2m income made from promoting cryptocurrencies, speaking engagements and selling the documentary film rights to his life story.
The software legend was also charged in a separate cryptocurrency fraud case in New York.
McAfee, who was known for his eccentric behaviour, was arrested in October 2020 at Barcelona’s international airport.
During a court hearing in Madrid last week, he argued that the tax fraud charges filed against him were linked to his US presidential run in 2020 as a Libertarian Party candidate – his second failed run for the White House.
“In late 2018, I announced I would run again and I also announced I would target the IRS [US Internal Revenue Service] and its corruption and two months later the IRS filed charged against me,” he told Spain’s High Court during the first hearing of his extradition trial.
“I believe the charges are politically motivated.”
McAfee had been imprisoned for almost nine months and could have appealed the Spanish court’s extradition ruling.
Nishay Sanan, a Chicago-based lawyer who was defending McAfee against federal tax fraud charges told the AP that the legendary software figure “will always be remembered as a fighter”.
“He tried to love this country but the US government made his existence impossible,” Sanan said. “They tried to erase him, but they failed.”
Sanan said Spanish authorities had not disclosed the cause of death to his legal team, and that he wants to know whether video cameras were in McAfee’s cell or inside the prison.