(CN) — Antivirus software pioneer John McAfee was found dead in his cell in a jail near Barcelona where he was awaiting extradition to the U.S. on tax and fraud charges, Spanish government officials said Wednesday.
Hours earlier, a Spanish court issued a preliminary ruling supporting extradition of the 75-year-old tycoon to the United States where he had faced tax-related criminal charges in the Western District of Tennessee since last year.
The eponymous founder of the McAfee antivirus software company had been detained in Spain since his arrest in October 2020 at Barcelona’s El Prat international airport as he was about to take a flight to Turkey.
Madrid-based daily newspaper El Pais reported McAfee’s jail cell death on Wednesday as suicide.
Spain’s National Court ruled Monday in favor of extraditing McAfee, who had argued earlier this month that his U.S. indictments were politically motivated and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison if he was returned stateside.
The Spanish court's ruling was made public on Wednesday and could be appealed. Any final extradition order would also have needed approval from the Spanish Cabinet.
Tennessee prosecutors charged McAfee with evading taxes after failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consultancy work, as well as income from speaking engagements and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary.
McAfee faced up to 30 years in prison on the U.S. tax counts.
A judge ordered at that time that McAfee should be held in jail while awaiting the outcome of a hearing on extradition.
Five months after his arrest on the tax charges, McAfee was indicted in the Southern District of New York on seven criminal charges. Prosecutors there alleged a $13 million “scalping” fraud and money-laundering conspiracy in connection with two cryptocurrency investment schemes.
McAfee was indicted in New York along with Jimmy Gale Watson Jr., a former bodyguard-turned-executive adviser of McAfee’s cryptocurrency team.
“As alleged, McAfee and Watson exploited a widely used social media platform and enthusiasm among investors in the emerging cryptocurrency market to make millions through lies and deception,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement accompanying the indictment.
The 38-page criminal complaint unsealed in March alleges McAfee and Watson exploited McAfee’s 780,000-strong Twitter following to artificially inflate prices of so-called “altcoins” by recommending those commodity tokens online to would-be investors without disclosing that they had taken investment positions in those commodities with the intention of selling them in the short term.
Federal prosecutors allege that between December 2017 and January 2018, McAfee, Watson and other McAfee team members collectively earned more than $2 million in illicit profits from their altcoin “scalping” scheme, while the long-term value of the recommended altcoins purchased by investors plummeted as of a year after the promotional tweets.
McAfee, a tech-savvy Libertarian, maintained an active presence on his Twitter page from behind bars; last month he tweeted about a conversation he’d recently had with fellow inmates in the Spanish jail concerning prison suicide. "Having little experience in such, I was not of much help," he wrote in May 2021.
Security personnel at the Brians 2 jail, located northwest of Barcelona, reportedly attempted to resuscitate McAfee, but the jail’s medical team finally certified his death, the regional Catalan government said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement did not identify McAfee by name, but said he was a 75-year-old U.S. citizen awaiting extradition to his country.
A Catalan government source familiar with the event who was not authorized to be named in media reports confirmed to the Associated Press that the deceased inmate was McAfee.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on Wednesday afternoon.
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