British hotelier Simon Wood, from Preston, Lancashire, and his wife Francesca Scalfari were locked up in a Zanzibar prison charged with money laundering
A British hotelier who was locked up in a “hell hole” prison in Zanzibar said he is “pinching” himself after finally arriving home.
Simon Wood, 51, from Preston, Lancashire, and his wife Francesca Scalfari, 45, were jailed on the West African island just over a fortnight ago charged with money laundering and other financial crimes.
But they were released after lawyers persuaded a judge to dismiss the most serious accusations leveled at them, reports LancsLive.
Under local laws, the couple could have been kept in jail for up to eight months while awaiting trial, but Simon believes the laundering charges were all a “tactic.”
He says there was no real likelihood he or Francesca would have been prosecuted for them – though they do still face nine lesser charges.
Simon was locked inside the ancient Kilimani prison – built by Portuguese colonisers roughly 300 years ago – on June 7 where he was subjected to squalid conditions.
He slept on a single mattress with another inmate and had to defecate through a hole in the 10-man cell.
Guards also shaved his head, probed his food with their fingers and even refused visitations from relatives on occasions, he claimed.
During their time inside, the couple’s son Luca, 11, lived with his grandparents.
Simon said: “It’s very shocking, obviously. I was taken there and strip-searched. My wife was in a separate place where the women are.
“On the male side, there are around 600 inmates and about 450 are on remand. They are basically all crammed into rooms of between 20 and eight, and I got into one that initially had ten in a room.
“I had a single mattress on the floor. I had to share that with another guy. We were locked in for 14 hours a day, from 4.30pm to around 6am, at daybreak.
“It’s quite hot until later a night, and there were mosquitoes. There’s a hole in the wall which is the toilet, basically.
“The prison was built by the Portuguese in the 1700s, and it’s not really changed much, to be frank.”
Simon has lived on Zanzibar for 20 years.
He claims the legal dispute stems from a “quarrel” over money with ex-investors in his resort, the Sharazād Boutique Hotel.
But he said it was a “relief” that a judge had granted him bail, adding that he and his wife were “ready” to defend themselves in court on future occasions.
He said: “We’re floating now. I’m pinching myself. There are still 9 charges leveled against us, but we hold no fear against those.
“I’m quite ready to go to court. We’re just shocked that this has gone from a civil to a criminal case.”
He went on to say the ordeal has separated the parents from son Luca, as well as impacting his elderly parents.
Simon and Francesca put their child on a plane to Italy, alone, the day before they entered prison.
The dad said he found out about the charges against him and his wife about a month ago.
“We knew what was coming, so we got him on a flight that night,” he explained.
“He’d never flown on his own. It was a very difficult 24 hours.
“On Tuesday and Wednesday we managed to video call him.
“He doesn’t know what happened to me. He asked about my hair, and I said I had lice, which I think he swallowed.”
On learning of the charges leveled at them, the couple had worked to “lobby” high-level officials in the regional government, but after their pleas failed, they were forced to hand themselves in to police.
Simon said: “Every step of the way, the public prosecution department’s tactic was to delay because they knew if we went to trial, we’d be freed.
“So it was just about keeping us inside on remand.”
He added: “I’m talking about it in the past now, which is a great relief, but it was difficult.”