John McAfee’s journey in Catalonia: from a semi-abandoned hotel to a cryptocurrency operation

The antivirus software creator was spotted in Spain in late 2019, and was confined to the country during the coronavirus pandemic

John McAfee in a file photo from 2012.
John McAfee in a file photo from 2012.Alan Diaz (AP)

To work out the movements of antivirus software entrepreneur John McAfee, who was found dead in his prison cell on Wednesday, one only needs to follow his social media accounts. With the exception of the odd lie or attempt to mislead, McAfee gave a clear account of his time in Catalonia over the past year and a half. According to his own words, he had traveled to Tarragona to visit some friends, and was trapped by the coronavirus pandemic. But police suspect that he set up base in the Catalan province and traveled across Europe from there. Authorities believe he lived in a semi-abandoned hotel in Cambrils called Daurada Park Hotel. Two years earlier, during an administrative inspection, the Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra discovered a cryptocurrency operation in the basement of the hotel.

Was that why McAfee was in Catalonia? To retire in a discreet spot, like Cambrils, in a semi-abandoned hotel and mine cryptocurrencies? His lawyer Javier Villalba has not offered any details on what the software entrepreneur was doing in Catalonia or where he was staying. But the situation does not appear random. On the morning of his death, McAfee received news that Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, had granted the United States’ request to extradite him back to the country to face charges of tax evasion. But the High Court also received a second request from the US, which accused the 75-year-old of not declaring earnings made from cryptocurrencies.

Sources close to McAfee deny that he was connected to the Russians who bought Daurada Park Hotel, an old establishment that is very popular in the area. The hotel has a gas station which people used to stop by, but fell in value when a highway was built. Now, cars have to detour to reach it. But on social media, McAfee’s followers had no trouble identifying the hotel from the photos he shared. Daurada Park Hotel is currently closed and watched over by a security guard.

Daurada Park Hotel, in Cambrils, where police found a cybercurrency operation in the basement.
Daurada Park Hotel, in Cambrils, where police found a cybercurrency operation in the basement.Josep Lluís Sellart

As McAfee traveled across the world, his more than one million followers on Twitter and 55,000 on Instagram (an account which has since been deleted) virtually traveled with him, trying to see if they could guess where he was. In December 2019, one of his followers asked him: what are you doing in Cambrils? Cambrils is a municipality on the coast of Tarragona, which is home to 33,000 people. McAfee didn’t reply. But not long after, in January 2020, he shared a photo of himself with two friends in Salou, a resort town near Cambrils. McAfee said he often traveled to Catalonia, where he had friends.

In March, the coronavirus pandemic hit when McAfee was in Tarragona. He shared photos of empty supermarkets – the result of panic buying – where the price listings were in Catalan. Once again, his followers worked out his location. On social media, McAfee ranted against the measures aimed at containing the pandemic. He was also seen at the beach and driving around the province. Some people said they crossed paths with him in the supermarket. McAfee never hid the fact that he was in Spain. Indeed, he complained about not being able to leave the country. He tried to travel to Germany without a face mask – he shared a photo of himself using a thong as a covering – and was forced to return to Reus airport in Tarragona.

In July, Spain’s National Police was notified by Interpol to arrest McAfee for tax evasion. The 75-year-old then pretended on social media that he was not in Spain. But some details gave him away, such as a water bottle from the Bezoya brand – which placed him in Spain, or the beach restaurant La Pineda in Tarragona. The officers followed the clues. Information indicated that McAfee was going to take a private flight from Reus airport to leave the country. But the information came too late. McAfee had flown a week earlier.

The antivirus software creator returned again to Spain. Finally, on Saturday, October 3, police arrested him at El Prat airport in Barcelona. He was planning to fly to Turkey, but security controls detected that there was an international arrest warrant against him for tax evasion. The next day, after appearing before Spain’s High Court, McAfee was admitted to Brians 2 prison in Sant Esteve de Sesrovires.

“The family is devastated by the loss,” said Javier Villalba, McAfee’s lawyer, following the news of his death. An autopsy has yet to establish the cause of death, but Villalba announced that the family would ask for a second autopsy to also be carried out. The Mossos and the Justice Department are treating the case as a suicide. Prison workers found McAfee hanging from his cell, just hours after he had been informed of the High Court’s decision to extradite him to the US.

Villabla said that there was nothing, neither in his attitude or comments, that suggested McAfee was suicidal. The lawyer added that the 75-year-old’s extradition to the US was not going to happen immediately. They could have appealed the High Court’s decision, and there was a second case regarding undeclared earnings from cryptocurrencies that was yet to be decided. “We are outraged, we are going to get to the bottom of this,” he said, while criticizing the fact that a person could die while under the guardianship of penitentiary institutions.

McAfee also spoke about his time in prison on Twitter. In the beginning, he was positive about the experience and even praised the food. On October 15, 2020, he wrote: “I am content in here. I have friends. The food is good. All is well. Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine” – a reference to Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire businessman accused of sex trafficking who was found dead in a maximum security prison in the US.

But over time, the tone of his messages darkened. After spending three months behind bars, McAfee wrote on Twitter: “If lawmakers were required to spend a single day in prison before being allowed to make laws, penalties for nonviolent crimes would be drastically less severe.” Two months before he was found hanging from his cell, he wrote: “I have been imprisoned in Catalonia nearly seven months. I speak no Catalan and little Spanish so human contact is limited. There are no entertainments – no escape from loneliness, from emptiness, from myself. This has been the most trying period of my life.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

Rules

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS