Software company founder John McAfee has surfaced in public for the first time in weeks, saying on Tuesday that he plans to ask for asylum in Guatemala because he fears persecution in Belize.
McAfee spoke to reporters at a restaurant near a high-end hotel where he is staying in Guatemala City after sneaking out of neighboring Belize. Police in Belize have called him a person of interest in last month’s slaying of a fellow US expatriate, but say there is no warrant for his arrest. Since there are no restrictions on his travels, it is unclear why he would need a special status to stay in Guatemala.
McAfee says he is being persecuted by the Belizean government and he has sensitive information about official corruption in that country. He has hired a well-known Guatemalan lawyer to assist him.
“I need a safe place where I can actually speak out,” McAfee said. “Now that I’m here I can speak freely. I can speak openly.”
Belizean police have denied they are persecuting McAfee or are motivated by corruption, saying they have simply been investigating a crime about which McAfee may have information.
Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow has expressed doubts about McAfee’s mental state, saying: “I don’t want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers.”
McAfee told media that he will petition the Guatemalan government to allow him to stay. McAfee said he fears he will be killed if he turns himself in for questioning in Belize.
“Belize does not have a good track record of providing safety when they ask to question you,” he said.
McAfee is wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death early last month on the Belize island where the men lived.
Faull’s home was a couple of houses down from the compound where McAfee kept several noisy dogs, armed guards and entertained a steady stream of young women from the mainland. McAfee acknowledges that his dogs were bothersome and that Faull had complained about them, but denied killing Faull. Several of the dogs were poisoned shortly before Faull’s killing.
“I am absolutely innocent,” McAfee said on Tuesday.
The Faull family has said through a representative that the murder of their loved one on Ambergris Caye has gotten lost in the media frenzy provoked by McAfee’s manipulation of the press through phone calls, e-mails and blog posts detailing his life on the run.
For two weeks, McAfee refused to turn himself in to authorities in Belize and claimed to be hiding in plain sight, wearing disguises and watching as police raided his house. However, it was unclear how much of what McAfee — a confessed practical joker — said and wrote was true.
On Monday, McAfee said he had fled from Belize using a bizarre ruse involving an elaborate distraction in neighboring Mexico.
In an e-mail to reporters, McAfee confirmed a posting to his Web site in which he described, in what appeared to be joking tones, how he mounted the ruse.
“My ‘double,’ carrying on [sic] a North Korean passport under my name, was detained in Mexico for pre-planned misbehavior, but due to indifference on the part of authorities [he] was evicted from the jail and was unable to serve his intended purpose in our exit plan,” McAfee wrote in the post.
In his comments to media on Tuesday, McAfee did not provide details of how he crossed from Belize into Guatemala.
McAfee had earlier said he did not plan to leave Belize, but ultimately did because he thought “Sam” was in danger, referring to the young woman who has accompanied him since he went into hiding.
McAfee, the creator of the McAfee antivirus program, has led an eccentric life since he sold his stake in the anti-virus software company that is named after him in the early 1990s and moved to Belize about three years ago to lower his taxes.
He told the New York Times in 2009 that he had lost all but US$4 million of his US$100 million fortune in the US financial crisis. However, a story on the Gizmodo Web site quoted him as calling that claim “not very accurate at all.”