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Eccentric US millionaire McAfee plans presidential run...from Cuba

Sunday, July 14, 2019

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HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — After making a fortune with his early antivirus software, then being caught up in murder and drugs cases in Belize, US millionaire John McAfee has now added a new chapter to his tumultuous life story — from a yacht in Havana harbour he says he is running for the US presidency.

This will not, he deadpans, be “an ordinary campaign”.

“I am wanted as a criminal by the government for which I am running for president,” McAfee tells AFP as he sits surrounded on his white yacht by an entourage of seven campaign aides and two enormous dogs.

He wears shorts, a tropical-themed shirt and wraparound sunglasses, and sports a graying goatee.

McAfee's immediate goal is to win the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party, which advocates for free trade and a sharply reduced federal government.

He tried but failed in 2016, edged out for that party's nomination by Gary Johnson, who went on to win just over three per cent of the vote in the general election.

But McAfee has an unusual confession for a presidential candidate: “I don't want to be president, I really don't, nor could I be,” he says, puffing on a cigar.

“Really, look at me,” says McAfee, whose deep tan and relaxed attitude hardly give him the look of a candidate. “I can't be president.”

He goes on, “However, I do have a large following, and I will influence this next election.”

Since making a fortune with his eponymous antivirus software in the 1980s, McAfee has become a self-styled cryptocurrency guru, claiming to make US$2,000 a day. He has nearly one million followers on Twitter.

His yacht, docked at the Marina Hemingway in Havana, is named The Great Mystery -- appropriately for this enigmatic man of 73.

BRUSHES WITH THE LAW

McAfee began his career as a NASA engineer before working for several software companies where he learned of the existence of a computer virus — and began figuring out how to destroy it.

Thus McAfee Associates was born in 1987, quickly becoming a giant in the antivirus industry. He sold the company to Intel in 2010 and is now worth an estimated US$100 million.

But his American-dream success story — worthy of a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates — took an unexpected turn: Moving to Belize in Central America and living a sometimes chaotic life, he suddenly became tabloid grist when his neighbour was mysteriously murdered in 2012, a crime that remains unsolved.

When the police found him living with a 17-year-old girl and discovered a large arsenal of weapons in his home, McAfee disappeared on a month-long flight that drew breathless media coverage.

The dead neighbour's family later filed a wrongful death suit against McAfee; last year a court in Florida found against him, ordering him to pay the family more than US$25 million.

Ever the provocateur, in 2013 the millionaire posted a rambling video during which he explained how to uninstall McAfee software, his nose covered in white powder as seven scantily clad women massage his shirtless chest and shoulders.

The film, which ends on an image of him firing a pistol at a computer screen, was watched nine million times.

In 2015 McAfee was arrested in the United States for driving under the influence. He again disappeared from view until January 2019, when he fled the country.

CUBA'S BEST FRIEND?

“I went first to the Bahamas because I was charged with income tax evasion,” he said, adding that when the FBI came there looking for him he fled to Cuba.

“I have not paid taxes for eight years,” he added. “I will not pay taxes again — it is unconstitutional and illegal.”

This capitalist king's choice to find refuge in a communist country might seem surprising.

Yet McAfee insists he is probably Cuba's “best friend”.

“I know nothing about communism,” he says. “I do know we should not be interfering with Cuba; we should not be blockading this country,” as the US has done since 1962.

McAfee has offered to help Cuba launch a cryptocurrency of its own. The Havana government had said earlier that it is studying how the virtual money might be used to get around US economic sanctions. McAfee said this would be “trivial”.

It is not always easy to determine the veracity of everything McAfee says. US tax authorities, asked about his possible legal jeopardy, would not confirm whether he faces any charges.

No extradition request has been filed with Cuban authorities.

The mere fact of having sailed his yacht to Cuba, however, violates new US regulations that ban American citizens from travelling to the island on cruise ships or private boats.

Still, amid continuing tense relations between Havana and Washington, the millionaire says he plans to remain in place until the US elections of November 2020.

“Cuba has never extradited an American citizen,” he notes, “and Cuba is not exactly a friend of the US government.”

Yet the two countries do cooperate on police and legal matters. Last November, the Cuban authorities turned over to their US counterparts an American wanted by Interpol for murdering his girlfriend.


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