INTERNATIONAL

Anti-virus company founder John McAfee arrested in Spain on tax evasion charges

The millionaire entrepreneur is being held in custody in Barcelona until he can be extradited to the United States, where he could face up to 30 years in jail

A 2015 file photo of internet security pioneer John McAfee.
A 2015 file photo of internet security pioneer John McAfee.Todd J. Van Emst / AP

John McAfee, the controversial founder of the anti-virus company that carries his name, was arrested on Saturday at Barcelona’s El Prat airport due to allegations of, among other offenses, evading millions of dollars of taxes on supposed income from activities such as promoting cryptocurrencies.

The United States Department of Justice announced on Monday all of the charges that McAfee is facing, and explained that they are awaiting for the extradition process from Spain to be completed, according to British daily the Financial Times, and which was later confirmed to EL PAÍS by sources from the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also leveled accusations against McAfee in a civil court.

The eccentric millionaire was apprehended at the Spanish airport at 9.30am when he was due to take a flight to Istanbul, according to police sources. When his passport details were checked, officers discovered that there was an international warrant out for his arrest on accusations of fraud. He was arrested on the spot.

On Sunday, McAfee was brought before a court and was questioned by a judge via videoconference. When the testimony concluded, the magistrate ordered him to be held in custody while his extradition order was processed. The entrepreneur is currently being held in Brians prison, in Sant Esteve Sesrovire, Barcelona.

The American businessman is accused of hiding millions of dollars of income from US tax authorities for the promotion of cryptocurrencies and the sale of the rights to his life story, the Financial Times reported. Public prosecutors believe that the businessman used accounts in other people’s names to hide this income, which was obtained between 2014 and 2018. The US authorities also accuse him of acquiring assets, including a yacht, using other people’s names.

Since McAfee sold his antivirus company to Intel for €6.5 billion at the start of the previous decade, he has had a number of run-ins with the law. In 2012, he fled from the authorities after the death of his neighbor in Belize. He took refuge in neighboring Guatemala and was later deported to the US, although he was never charged in relation to the case.

In 2019, McAfee himself announced that he had fled the United States because he was facing accusations from the public prosecutor. Last year, speaking to a news agency from Cuba, he stated that he had not paid taxes for the last eight years. “I have not paid taxes for eight years. I will not pay taxes again – it is unconstitutional and illegal,” he said. He was also arrested in July 2019 in Dominican Republic for carrying weapons on his yacht.

A tweet from John McAfee from earlier this year in which he explains his refusal to pay taxes.

According to the Department of Justice, he did not pay taxes for five years, between 2014 and 2018. The investigation was opened in June, but had remained sealed until his arrest. The SEC has brought civil charges against McAfee, saying he has promoted the purchase of cryptocurrencies among his followers on Twitter without warning that he was being paid for that promotion. According to the market watchdog, he was paid more than €19.5 million for the tweets. His bodyguard, Jimmy Watson, is also being investigated. If convicted of all charges, McAfee could face up to 30 years in prison, British daily The Independent reported.

Last March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, McAfee found himself in Tarragona, Spain, from where he began chronicling his experiences under the strict lockdown implemented in the country, complaining that the restrictions on mobility prevented him from doing what he wanted. He spoke about “martial law” and also complained about the alarmism about a virus that, he claimed, killed fewer people than the ordinary flu. He published a series of videos in which he could be clearly seen ignoring Spain’s lockdown rules.

English version by Simon Hunter.