GUATEMALA CITY — Software company founder John McAfee was hospitalized briefly Thursday after being denied political asylum in Guatemala, and his lawyers said they were making a last-ditch effort to keep him from being flown back to Belize for questioning about the killing of a fellow American expatriate.
McAfee told The Associated Press that he suffered chest pains overnight but didn’t believe he had a heart attack. A government doctor who examined him agreed, saying that McAfee’s heart rhythm and blood pressure were normal and that he appeared to be suffering from high stress.
McAfee was moved from an immigration center to a police-run hospital Thursday afternoon after Guatemalan authorities said McAfee’s request for asylum had been denied. They did not explain why.
He was released from the hospital and taken back to the detention center Thursday night.
Shortly after the decision to deny him asylum was announced, McAfee issued a plea on his blog for the public to petition Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina to let him stay.
“Please email the President of Guatemala and beg him to allow the court system to proceed, to determine my status in Guatemala, and please support the political asylum that I am asking for,” the post read.
McAfee’s legal team said they were preparing to appeal the denial of asylum to the country’s constitutional court, a process that could give McAfee perhaps another day or two in Guatemala. The court would have to issue a decision within 48 hours.
McAfee’s complaints of chest pain prompted authorities to move him from the immigration center where he had been held overnight. He had been taken to the center after his arrest for illegally entering the country after a bizarre weekslong journey as a self-styled fugitive with an active blog and constant contact with the press.
During an exclusive interview with the AP Thursday morning from inside his private room at the center, McAfee said he was refusing to travel to a hospital because he had been using Chinese herbal medicine since suffering a heart attack in 1993.
“Last night I had a little bit of pain, but I am fine this morning,” he said. “I don’t like Western medicine … if the people around me are kind and compassionate, that’s all that matters in life. The people of Guatemala are very kind people, so I have no complaints.”
A couple of hours later, an AP reporter returned to McAfee’s room and found him changed into a suit but lying on the floor as he was examined by a doctor. Shortly after, he was taken to the police hospital.
Belizean police spokesman Raphael Martinez said officials expected McAfee to be flown back to his country’s capital. Police want to question him about the fatal shooting of Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death in early November on the Belize island where both men lived.
There is no warrant for McAfee’s arrest, so it is possible his self-initiated flight from Belizean authority could end up with him free to roam the Caribbean island where he lived for years, often clashing with neighbors and authorities over allegations he kept aggressive dogs, weapons and drug paraphernalia on his property.
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 media through phone calls, emails and blog posts detailing his life on the lam.
McAfee updated his blog Thursday after being given a computer by the warden at the immigration center in Guatemala City, a three-story building with mesh-covered windows and barbed-wire on the roof.
McAfee said U.S. Embassy officials had said they couldn’t help him with a request to be returned to the United States instead of Belize. McAfee said he had formally requested asylum in Guatemala because he fears for his safety in Belize because he has sensitive information about official corruption and refused to donate to local politicians.
His Guatemalan lawyer, Telesforo Guerra, warned Wednesday night that the 67-yeard-old McAfee’s life would be in danger if he is sent back to Belize.
“He will be in danger if he is returned to Belize, where he has denounced authorities,” Guerra said. “From the moment he asked for asylum he has to have the protection of the Guatemalan government.”
Police in Belize deny they are persecuting McAfee and say there is no warrant for his arrest. The country’s prime minister has questioned McAfee’s mental state.
McAfee went on the run last month after officials tried to question him about the killing of Faull, who was shot to death in early November.
McAfee acknowledges that his dogs were bothersome and that Faull had complained about them, but denies killing Faull. Faull’s home was a couple of houses down from McAfee’s compound.
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 $4 million of his $100 million fortune in the U.S. financial crisis. However, 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.