Fugitive software company founder John McAfee has surfaced in public for the first time in weeks, saying he plans to ask for asylum in Guatemala because he fears persecution in Belize.
McAfee spoke in a restaurant near a high-end hotel where he is staying in Guatemala City after sneaking out of neighbouring Belize.
Police in Belize have called him a person of interest over the November killing of a fellow American expat, but say there is no warrant for his arrest. Since there are no restrictions on his travels, it is unclear why he would need any special status in order 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 yesterday. “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.
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 said he would petition the Guatemalan government to allow him to stay. He said he feared he would be killed if he turned 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. “I felt much more secure crossing the border into a country that had laws that were backed by the justice system.”
McAfee is wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot dead in early November on the Belize island where the men lived.
Mr 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 brought in from the mainland.
McAfee acknowledges that his dogs were bothersome and that Mr Faull had complained about them, but denied killing him. Several of the dogs were poisoned shortly before Mr Faull's murder.
“I am absolutely innocent,” McAfee said yesterday.
The Faull family has said through a representative that the murder of their loved one on Ambergris Caye has got lost in the media frenzy provoked by McAfee's manipulation of the press through phone calls, emails 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. It was unclear, however, how much of what McAfee - a confessed practical joker - said and wrote was true.
On Monday he said he had fled from Belize using a bizarre ruse involving an elabourate distraction in neighbouring Mexico.
In an email to The Associated Press, McAfee confirmed a posting to his website 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 misbehaviour,” McAfee wrote in the posting, “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.”
In his comments to The AP yesterday, McAfee did not provide details of how he crossed from Belize into Guatemala.
He 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 anti-virus programme, has led an eccentric life since he sold his stake in the software company 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 four million dollars of his 100 million-dollar fortune in the US financial crisis.
But a story on the Gizmodo website quoted him as calling that claim “not very accurate at all”. He has dabbled in yoga, ultra-light aircraft and producing herbal medications.