GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Software guru John McAfee, fighting deportation to Belize, was rushed to a hospital in Guatemala on Thursday shortly after his asylum request was rejected, but a suspected heart attack turned out to be stress in a fresh twist to the saga.
The 67-year-old U.S. computer software pioneer was taken swiftly from a hospital in a police car out of the sight of media, after earlier arriving in an ambulance lying on a stretcher.
His lawyer said he was being taken back to an immigration department cottage where he has been detained since crossing illegally into Guatemala from neighbouring Belize, where police want to question him in connection with his neighbour’s murder.
“He never had a heart attack, nothing like that,” said Telesforo Guerra, a former attorney general who had earlier said McAfee had two mild heart attacks.
“I’m not a doctor. I’m just telling you what the doctors told me,” he added. “He was suffering from stress, hypertension and tachycardia (an abnormally fast heartbeat).”
McAfee was posting on his blog www.whoismcafee.com in the morning, the time he suffered the stress attack.
“I don’t think a heart attack prevents one from using one’s blog,” Guerra had said at the time.
Guerra’s assistant, Karla Paz, earlier said she found McAfee lying on the ground and unable to move his body or speak.
McAfee was detained by Guatemalan police on Wednesday for illegally sneaking across the border with his 20-year-old girlfriend to escape authorities in Belize. He has said he fears authorities in Belize will kill him if he returns.
Guatemala’s foreign minister, Harold Caballeros, said earlier McAfee’s request for asylum was rejected.
Constitutional lawyer Gabriel Orellana, a former foreign minister, said the government should have given more weight to the asylum request rather than rush to a decision.
“We should take into account the fact that McAfee has not been accused of any crime in Belize,” he said.
Police in Belize want to quiz McAfee as “a person of interest” in the killing of a fellow American, Gregory Faull, with whom he had quarrelled. But they say he is not a prime suspect in the probe.
McAfee says he has been persecuted by Belize’s ruling party because he refused to pay around $2 million (1.2 million pounds) he says it is trying to hustle out of him, he said.
Belize’s prime minister denies this and said McAfee, who made millions from the Internet anti-virus software that bears his name, was “bonkers.” McAfee later lost much of his fortune and turned to a life of semi-reclusion by the Belizean beach.
McAfee spent Wednesday night reading his blog and posting his thoughts on a laptop he said was lent to him by the warden of the cottage where he was staying.
One person asked him if he felt like committing suicide.
“I enjoy living, and suicide is absurdly redundant,” he wrote. “The world, from the very beginning, hurls viruses, accidents, hungry animals, defective DNA - and uncountable more - in an attempt to kill us. It always succeeds. Suicide is simply aiding and abetting.”
McAfee’s earlier posts spoke of his relief at arriving in Guatemala, thinking he had found a way out of his troubles.
One of his readers posted a message offering him just that.
“John. I have a special ops team near the La Aurora International Airport. I can get you out of jail and provide safe passage back to the States for a fee. Please let me know if this interests you.”
Guatemala’s government originally said the eccentric tech entrepreneur, who loves guns and young women and has tribal tattoos covering his shoulders, would be expelled to Belize within hours. But it later rowed back.
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of McAfee’s arrest and its embassy was providing “appropriate consular services,” but could not comment further.
On the island of Ambergris Caye, where McAfee has lived for about four years, residents and neighbours say he is eccentric and at times unstable. He was seen to travel with armed bodyguards, sporting a pistol tucked into his belt.
The predicament of the former Lockheed systems consultant is a far cry from his heyday in the late 1980s, when he started McAfee Associates. McAfee has no relationship now with the company, which was sold to Intel Corp.
McAfee was previously charged in Belize with possession of illegal firearms, and police had raided his property on suspicions that he was running a lab to produce illegal synthetic narcotics. He says he has not taken drugs since 1983.
“I took drugs constantly, 24 hours of the day. I took them for years and years. I was the worst drug abuser on the planet,” he told Reuters just before his arrest. “Then I finally went to Alcoholics Anonymous, and that was the end of it.”
With reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Simon Gardner and Dave Graham; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Philip Barbara