John McAfee, Software Pioneer Who Fled the Law, Is Arrested in Spain

John McAfee, Software Pioneer Who Fled the Law, Is Arrested in Spain

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John David McAfee, an antivirus software pioneer who fled Belize in 2012 ahead of a murder investigation there, has been arrested in Spain on tax evasion charges, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.

Mr. McAfee, 75, is a Silicon Valley legend who earned millions from the computer virus-fighting software company that still bears his surname. In 2012, he disappeared from his home in Belize after the local police sought him for questioning over the death of his neighbor.

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

The Justice Department said on Monday that Mr. McAfee’s extradition from Spain to the United States was “pending.” It did not provide a timeline, and Mr. McAfee could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Prosecutors accused Mr. McAfee of failing to file tax returns from 2014 to 2018, even as he earned millions from “promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work, speaking engagements, and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary,” according to a June indictment in the U.S. court in Tennessee that the Justice Department unsealed on Monday.

The indictment said that Mr. McAfee evaded his tax liability by accepting payments through bank accounts and cryptocurrency exchange accounts that were set up by others. It also said that he tried to dodge the Internal Revenue Service by dealing extensively in cryptocurrency and buying assets — including real estate and a yacht — in other peoples’ names.

Each count of tax evasion carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, and each tax evasion count carries a maximum one year sentence.

A separate complaint, filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday in the Southern District of New York against Mr. McAfee and his bodyguard, Jimmy Gale Watson, provided a few more details of the U.S. government’s allegations.

It said that Mr. McAfee had made more than $23 million from 2017 to 2018 by recommending several “initial coin offerings” — a type of crowdfunding — to his hundreds of millions of Twitter followers, playing it off as impartial investment advice without disclosing that he was being paid to do so.

According to the 55-page complaint, Mr. McAfee was paid about half in Bitcoin and half in “Ether,” the virtual currency of the Ethereum network, a virtual cousin of Bitcoin, by the companies that were selling the securities.

McAfee, the software company that bears his name, was once a household name in computer security software. Intel bought it in 2010 for $7.7 billion, but sold its majority stake six years later to the investment firm TPG. Mr. McAfee has not been associated with the company since the 1990s, and the recent indictment does not suggest that he has had any connection with it since.

In 2012, Mr. McAfee — who was born in Britain and raised in Virginia — was at the center of a media frenzy surrounding the death in Belize of a neighbor and compatriot, Gregory Faull.

Mr. McAfee disappeared after the police announced that he was a “person of interest” in the investigation but continued to blog and tweet. He insulted the Belize government and police, and said he had fled because he feared for his life.

A few weeks later, he turned up in Guatemala City, seeking asylum. His lawyer said he was being persecuted because he had refused to give the authorities in Belize any more money.

The prime minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, called Mr. McAfee “bonkers.”

Mr. McAfee’s hiding spot in Guatemala was revealed inadvertently days later by a reporter and photographer who had interviewed him at his hiding spot, and he was arrested in that country on immigration charges.

There was little news of Mr. McAfee until 2016, when he announced that he was running for president of the United States as a Libertarian.

“Here’s to the crazy ones,” he said in a campaign video, adding that neither he nor any of his fellow Libertarian candidates stood any chance of becoming president. (Sure enough, he lost the party’s nomination to Gary Johnson.)

Last year, a Florida court ordered Mr. McAfee to pay $25 million after ruling against him in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Mr. Faull’s estate. In response, Mr. McAfee wrote on Twitter that he would not pay, calling the judgment part of a “legal extortion game aimed at America’s wealthy class.” He also said that he was “never suspected of murder” by the authorities in Belize or elsewhere.

A few months later, Reuters reported that Mr. McAfee had arrived in Britain after being detained with his wife for entering the Dominican Republic with firearms on his yacht. The office of the Caribbean country’s attorney general “asked him where he wanted to go, and he decided on London,” Candido Simon, a lawyer representing Mr. McAfee in the Dominican Republic, told the news agency.

As for his recent whereabouts, his Twitter account, which has a million followers, lists his location as “wherever I am.” The S.E.C. complaint said on Monday that he “currently resides in an unknown location.”

Last month, Mr. McAfee weighed in on the 2020 presidential election.

“Who am I voting for?” he wrote on Twitter. “No-one. Why would I choose one person over another to control me? Slave masters are the same. We are numbers rather than people, irrespective of the master.”

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Source: The NY Times
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