Rich British hotelier could face up to 20 years in African prison

A wealthy British hotelier and his wife are being held in a “hell hole” prison after police charged with money laundering on Zanzibar’s Paradise Island.

Simon Wood, 51, was jailed on an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa when he was arrested two weeks ago with his 45-year-old wife Francesca Scalfari.

His family said that when he was taken into custody, the police shaved his head and then kept him in a cell with 200 other dangerous prisoners, including the killers.

Simon Wood, 51, was jailed two weeks ago on an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa after being arrested with 45-year-old Francesca Scalfari.
Simon Galloway / Zenger

He also said that the couple was denied basic necessities including access to water and relatives were not allowed to visit them in jail on several occasions.

People close to the couple claim that their arrest is linked to lawsuits against them by former investors at their hotel, The Sharjad Boutique, in 2017.

But since these cases were later settled in favor of Wood and Scalfari, they are now “at a loss” to explain why the new criminal charges surfaced earlier this month.

Under local laws, prisoners can be jailed for up to eight months without trial, and Wood’s mother, Christine Wood, of Lancashire, England, said she was “concerned” for their welfare.

“I am deeply concerned for my son Simon and his Italian wife Francesca, who are beginning their third week of confinement in Zanzibar,” she said.

“He has now been charged with money laundering, but is at a loss to know why.

“For them, heaven has quickly turned into hell and they remain in prison until the court declares them ‘not guilty’.”

Simon Wood And Francesca Scalfari
Simon Wood, 51, was jailed two weeks ago on an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa after being arrested with 45-year-old Francesca Scalfari.
Simon Galloway / Zenger

Sculfari’s uncle, 62-year-old Jim Betteridge, a British ex-pat living in Tuscany, Italy, said Wood and Scalfari were being kept in “primitive” conditions.

“A hell hole would be a fairly accurate description,” he said.

“No food or water is provided. They have to buy their own water – and any food that is brought in is checked around and checked by guards.

“It’s so hot out there, full of mosquitoes and it’s nowhere near where you want to clearly see your worst enemy. To call it primitive would be complimentary.”

Betteridge explained that Wood, originally from Lancashire, had come to the beautiful island 20 years ago, where he met his future wife, Francesca, and later welcomed their son, Luca, 11.

Zanzibar, which falls under the jurisdiction of Tanzania, is famous for its warm weather and soft sandy beaches, and attracts about 500,000 tourists annually.

The pair later decided to convert their beach house into a 30-room boutique hotel with a £200 per night ($245 per night) ocean-view villa, a restaurant and a swimming pool.

Simon Wood And Family
Simon Wood, 51, was jailed two weeks ago on an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa after being arrested with 45-year-old Francesca Scalfari. The couple is pictured here with their son, Luca.
Simon Galloway / Zenger

But Betteridge said the couple spent years fighting civil suits in local courts, after “falling out” with two investors who put money into the business.

“Another Italian couple who are involved in NGOs on the mainland invested money with them and became partners, and they built the hotel together,” he said.

“And then they fell, many years ago, and for three to five years, there were civil cases going on.

“But Francesca and Simon won three civil cases against their former partners.”

Betteridge said the couple, who own several businesses on the island and employ about 60 people, believe their legal trouble was behind them a few years ago.

However, on 7 June he was suddenly arrested by the police and put in a local jail, where he has been kept ever since.

“I don’t think anyone knows how this ended and now the civil case has been rediscovered and turned into this criminal state prosecution case,” Betteridge said.

“And it’s all blown away in the last month and a half, really, when everything was fine behind them.”

The couple appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday and were charged with money laundering, which is believed to carry a maximum fine of 20 years.

Betteridge said that while authorities in both Italy and Britain are helping their families, the couple are suffering because of the dire conditions in their separate prisons.

“They’ve both lost weight and are obviously uncomfortable and upset,” he said.

“Prison sucks, to put it mildly. Simon is in a series of rooms with 200 convicted prisoners and sleeping on the floor on a mattress.

“Francesca is in a room with about 20 people. She didn’t have water for two days and two nights—and you can only imagine what that would do to one person, let alone 20.”

Betteridge insisted that the pair could prove their innocence but said this is difficult to achieve as they are currently unable to get bail.

“If they were allowed out, they would be able to prove their innocence in no time, but inside they can’t, so they are disappointed. It’s not a good thing to look at.”

It is understood Zanzibar’s president, Hussein Mwini, will attend a local investment forum on Thursday, where he may receive criticism for the couple’s custody.

A spokesman for the UK’s Office of Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development confirmed that they are assisting a British national currently jailed in Tanzania, but declined to provide further details.

He said: “We are supporting a British national detained in Tanzania and are in contact with local authorities.”

This story was provided to Greeley Tribune zenger news,

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