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Family fights to free British hotelier locked up in Zanzibar prison alongside Italian wife


The family of a British hotelier and his Italian wife who are locked up in a ‘hell hole’ prison on the island of Zanzibar after being charged with money laundering are fighting for their release.

Simon Wood, 51, from Preston, UK, and his wife Francesca Scalfari, 45, were jailed in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of east Africa, on 7 June.

The couple, who run the four-star Sharazad Boutique Hotel in Zanzibar, now face 20 years in jail over money laundering charges after they fell out with two investors who had invested in their hotel.

Police shaved Simon’s head when he was taken into custody before putting him in a cell with 200 other dangerous inmates, including murderers, at the Kilimani Prison, Wood’s family said. 

They also said the couple, who have lived on the island for 20 years, have been denied basic needs – including access to water – and relatives haven’t been allowed into the jail to see them on several occasions. 

The couple’s family and friends say their arrest is linked to civil lawsuits brought against them by their former business partners Giovani Viale and Liliana Ferro, dating back to 2017. 

Simon Wood, 51, from Preston, UK, and his wife Francesca Scalfari, 45, (pictured in court) were jailed in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of east Africa, on 7 June.

The couple (pictured with their son Luca), who run the four-star Sharazad Boutique Hotel in Zanzibar, now face 20 years in jail over money laundering charges after they fell out with two investors who had invested in their hotel

The couple (pictured with their son Luca), who run the four-star Sharazad Boutique Hotel in Zanzibar, now face 20 years in jail over money laundering charges after they fell out with two investors who had invested in their hotel

Simon and Francesca, who have lived on the island for 20 years, have been denied basic needs - including access to water - and relatives haven't been allowed into the jail to see them on several occasions

Simon and Francesca, who have lived on the island for 20 years, have been denied basic needs – including access to water – and relatives haven’t been allowed into the jail to see them on several occasions

The couple were jailed in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of east Africa, on 7 June.

The couple were jailed in Zanzibar, an island off the coast of east Africa, on 7 June.

Viale and Ferro filed a series of civil lawsuits against Simon and Francesca but every time, the civil courts threw out the claims. The last claim was thrown out in 2019.

But as these matters were later settled in favour of Simon and Francesca, their family and friends are now ‘at a loss’ to explain why new criminal charges arose earlier this month. 

Under local Zanzibar laws, the couple, who have an 11-year-old son Luca, can be kept in jail for eight months without trial. 

They managed to put Luca on a plane on his own to flee the island just before they were arrested. He is now staying with his maternal grandparents in Italy. 

Francesca, in messages seen by MailOnline, told a close friend of the prison conditions: ‘I cannot describe with words how life is inside there daily and I don’t want you to be sad knowing the details. But imagine cruel poverty then add jail then add abuse of power.’ 

‘I wish to have the words to describe how I feel. I spend my night in jail crying because during the day we are not allowed to cry or be sad.’  

Simon with shaved head

Simon before arrest

Police shaved Simon’s head when he was taken into custody before putting him in a cell with 200 other dangerous inmates, including murderers, at the Kilimani Prison, Simon’s family said

Under local Zanzibar laws, the couple, who have an 11-year-old son Luca, can be kept in jail for eight months without trial

Under local Zanzibar laws, the couple, who have an 11-year-old son Luca, can be kept in jail for eight months without trial

The couple managed to put Luca on a plane on his own to flee the island just before they were arrested. He is now staying with his maternal grandparents in Italy.

The couple managed to put Luca on a plane on his own to flee the island just before they were arrested. He is now staying with his maternal grandparents in Italy.

Francesca's uncle Jim Betteridge, 62, a British ex-pat living in Tuscany, Italy, added Simon and Francesca are being kept in 'primitive' conditions

Francesca’s uncle Jim Betteridge, 62, a British ex-pat living in Tuscany, Italy, added Simon and Francesca are being kept in ‘primitive’ conditions

Simon’s mother, Christine Wood, from Preston, Lancashire, told MailOnline she is ‘concerned’ for her son’s welfare.

She said: ‘I am very concerned for my son Simon and his Italian wife Francesca who are starting their third week of imprisonment in Zanzibar.

‘Now they have been accused of money laundering but are at a loss to know why.

‘For them, paradise has quickly turned to hell and until the court declares them ‘not guilty’ they remain in jail.’

Francesca’s uncle Jim Betteridge, 62, a British ex-pat living in Tuscany, Italy, added Simon and Francesca are being kept in ‘primitive’ conditions.

He said: ‘A hell hole would be a fairly accurate description.

‘There’s no food or water provided, they have to buy their water – and any food that’s brought in is poked around and probed by the guards.

‘It’s very hot in there, full of mosquitos and it’s not somewhere where you’d want to see your worst enemy, frankly. To call it primitive would be complimentary.’

Jim explained Simon had arrived on the beautiful island 20 years, where he met his future wife, Francesca, and had their son, Luca, 11.

The archipelago, which falls under the jurisdiction of Tanzania, is famed for its warm weather and soft sandy beaches – and attacts roughly 500,000 tourists a year.

The pair later decided in 2015 to turn their beachside home into a 30-room boutique hotel, with £200-a-night ocean view villas, a restaurant and swimming pool. But the couple did not have the funds to build the hotel.

Viale and Ferro heard that the couple were struggling to pull together the funds and approached them to say they will invest in the project. 

Simon had arrived on the beautiful island 20 years, where he met his future wife, Francesca, and had their son, Luca, 11

Simon had arrived on the beautiful island 20 years, where he met his future wife, Francesca, and had their son, Luca, 11

But a close friend of Francesca and Simon said tensions built as the partners wanted to dictate how the hotel should be operated.

‘The relationship broke down, and the partners opened a court case to remove Simon and Francesca from the hotel,’ the close friend told MailOnline.

The civil court set a judgement that Simon and Francesca had six months to buy out the Viales for the hotel – and if they could not, the Viales could buy out Simon and Francesca.

But when Simon and Francesca were able to raise the funds, the ex-partners appealed the judgement, which they lost. 

In 2019, the court ordered the money – $600,000 (£489,000) for the hotel shares that had not already been paid be put in an account that was made available to the Viales, which Simon and Francesca did. 

The ex-partners then opened another claim in the commercial court in Dar es Salaam, which was also thrown out. 

Everything went quiet – but a month ago the old case was opened up again – but this time with new charges of money laundering. Simon and Francesca’s close friend claims the Viales said they wanted $2 million (1.6million) to drop all the charges. 

‘I’d imagine the motivation of the ex-partners for this is that they have seen the success the hotel has become, want a large chunk of the pie,’ the close friend said.

Francesca’s uncle Jim said:  Francesca’s uncle Jim said: ‘I don’t think anybody knows how this now settled and finished civil matter has been dug up again and turned into this criminal state prosecution affair.

‘And it’s all blown up in the last month and a half, really, when everything was well behind them.’

The couple made their first appearance in court yesterday and were charged with money laundering – believed to carry a maximum penalty of 20 years.

And Jim says while their families are being assisted by officials from both Italy and Britain, the couple are suffering due to the awful conditions in their seperate jails.

Simon and his wife Francesca with their son Luca when he was born

Simon and his wife Francesca with their son Luca when he was born 

Britain’s Deputy High Commissioner Rick Shearn has met with officials of the Zanzibari government, and has been to see Simon in prison. Meanwhile, the Italian ambassador Marco Lombardi tried to make an appointment to see Francesca and went to the jail, but was refused access. 

He said: ‘They’ve both lost weight and are evidently uncomfortable and upset, obviously.

‘The jail is ramshackle to put it mildly. Simon is in a series of rooms with 200 convicted prisoners and is sleeping on the floor on a mattress.

‘Francesca is in a room with about 20 people. They had no water for two days and two nights – and you can only imagine what that would do for one person, let alone 20.’

Jim insists the pair could prove their innocence, but says this is hard to achieve as they’re currently unable to get bail.

He said: ‘Were they allowed out they would be able to prove their innocence in no time at all.

‘But from inside they can’t, so they’re frustrated. It’s not a nice thing to look at.’

It’s understood the president of Zanzibar, Hussein Mwinyi, will attend a local investment forum today where he could recieve criticism for the couple’s detainment.

Francescas family lawyer in Rome, Manuela Castegnaro, wrote ‘We are very worried about the health and phychological state of Francesca and Simon. 

‘Francesca has lost weight, her brother provides her foods every day but she can not eat.’ 

Manuela said Francesca told her brother Marco: ‘Before giving me food, they control it putting their finger inside the food so I can not eat it anymore.’

The lawyer added: ‘Simon has also lost weight and has asked for a doctor because of an ear infection. The state charges have no evidence. There is nothing new in the Court files. 

‘We are very hopeful that they will be released.’

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson confirmed they were assisting a British national currently jailed in Tanzania, but declined to give any further details.

They said: ‘We are supporting a British National detained in Tanzania and are in contact with the local authorities.’



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