A BUSINESSMAN who contracted HIV after being repeatedly gang raped in a South African prison today opens up on his horrifying two-year ordeal.
Sean Smith, a business partner of Wales rugby legend Gareth Thomas, has poured his heart out to Wales on Sunday following newspaper claims he jumped bail from the country over alleged swindles of pounds 1.4m.
Speaking to Wales on Sunday, the 42-year-old told how he was: * Arrested by the South African fraud squad and kept in the Eastern Cape's controversial St Albans Prison for 19 months; * Raped repeatedly up to eight times a day by gangs of prisoners; * Diagnosed with HIV and told he would die within four years; and * Fled South Africa in a car boot while under house arrest after he was finally granted bail.
According to a report last month, which Sean disputes, the entrepreneur is being hunted by South African police for 14 charges of fraud and theft.
Sean, who is currently battling lymphoma of the brain, says his ordeal dates back to May, 2007. At the time, he was living in the lap of luxury pursuing business interests in the sun-soaked country. He says he was quizzed by police over exchange control regulations in relation to the mortgage on his home - a matter of which he insists he is innocent. He was then escorted back to a local police station before being locked up in St Albans.
Describing how dramatically his life altered, he said: "Overnight I went from having a lifestyle where literally when I get up in the morning I'd have a shower and be dried by a maid to, by close of business, being p***** on and locked up and no-one telling you what's happening."
The businessman, who owns five firms including The Turbo Drinks Company which he bought with Thomas and former Wales player Gareth Williams in January, said he knew from the very first minute he was taken to St Albans he was in for a harrowing time.
St Albans - which is 30km outside of Port Elizabeth - hit the headlines in South Africa earlier this year when a human rights lawyer announced he was suing for damages on behalf of 231 prisoners, over allegations of brutality.
"When I arrived outside, the screaming and the noise of the prisoners was deafening," Sean said.
"I was stripped naked and then held waiting with all the other intakes to be cavity searched.
"The stench was unbelievable because there was no ventilation.
It was hot, it was putrid, and I was literally gagging."
It took four hours for Sean to be processed before he was then thrown into a small concrete cell, with no bed or toilet. The cells were supposed to sleep no more than 20 inmates but Sean was forced to share with around 90 others. Almost a week went by and while the conditions were "inhumane" they were, according to Sean, "bearable".
That soon changed as he entered a nightmarish world that haunts him to this day.
"All night all I could hear is crying because my cell mates were raping each other," he said.
"The first few nights I wasn't touched because I was the only white man and I didn't speak Afrikaans. They left me alone - I don't think they knew what to make of me or who I was.
"But after a few days they realised the white man wasn't dangerous and they started touching me.
"It was day six when I was first attacked and that went on pretty much every day for the next six months and it wasn't just once a day, sometimes it was about seven or eight times a day and that was one after the other.
"They did it not just as part of gang dominance but in my case it was showing supremacy over a white man - of which I was the only one."
Sean was left psychologically and physically scarred by the brutal assaults and very soon gave up fighting, becoming a broken man reduced to a shadow of his former self and left a mental wreck.
"Apart from the obvious effects of rape you've also got bleeding, you can't heal, you can't eat and this went on for months," he said.
"There wasn't much left of me by then anyway. I was pretty much a skeleton - I couldn't complain because there was nobody to complain to, besides, that was life there."
Sean - who has recently bought a house in the Vale of Glamorgan, and who set up Sean Smith & Associates with Thomas last year - said he began desperately looking forward to the days he was taken to court, even though he knew he would be rejected bail.
Eventually, the British High Commission became aware of his plight and sought to provide him with consular assistance. But, according to Sean, its attempts proved in vain as they were repeatedly denied access.
He also insists that despite "dozens" of court appearances, he has never faced formal charges.
Meanwhile, after nine months behind bars Sean was given a medical examination during which he suffered another brutal, life-changing blow.
"I remember seeing a male nurse as it was far too dangerous for a female nurse; who wants to work in a place where you are going to get gang raped and no-one is going to stop it? "Anyway, the nurse said 'we have to do the HIV test', and at that point I didn't give a damn. I was broken. I was broken physically and mentally, I had nothing left. I had no spirit at all so I didn't care.
"He did an instant HIV test and we're standing there making silly conversation while we wait the three minutes for the test. It then turned pink - meaning positive - and we both looked at each other and said 's***' together. He then burst out laughing.
"I asked what happens next and he replied 'I don't know, we'll call you' and that was it, I was bundled back into [the prison] population."
In the wake of this trauma, the British High Commission was granted more access to Sean, although their meetings were still limited to 10 minutes at a time.
"Eventually I was moved to a cell on my own and this was like being released - it was as good as," he said.
"And that's where I saw there were another three white people who, funnily enough, were all there for fraud and who outside had successful lives and in there had nothing.
"Forming a network with these guys, who you could have an intellectual conversation with, kept me alive. It re-ignited my brain.
"Slowly I managed to get my mind back and slowly build my spirit up."
Prison life began to become more bearable. Sean started to build up a relationship with the prison guards who made the use of his letter-writing skills in exchange for longer visitation rights.
At one point Sean and the British High Commission were allowed the use of a private room for two hours, although South African authorities continued to block his exit from prison.
But eventually he was able to contact a former partner who stumped up the money allowing Sean to hire some of the best lawyers in the country - some of whom had recently worked with President Jacob Zuma when he was acquitted of rape - along with a clinical psychiatrist.
"At that point I was a skeleton, my eyesight was pretty much gone," he said. "I was deaf in one ear, and mind-wise I had lost it. The psychiatrist was there to help me, not to spin something to the court."
After dozens of court appearances, the moment Sean had been waiting for nearly two years for arrived - bail was granted.
"I remember looking at the prosecutor and the judge when the announcement was made. The courtroom started jeering at them and all the ladies who worked for me and their friends who had come to support me started singing in their language.
"The judge stormed out, slamming the door behind him."
Sean was forced to hand over his passport and was then placed under house arrest.
Immediately, Sean sought the medical attention he so desperately needed - including a consultation with a HIV specialist.
Yet despite in need of reassurance, the medic told him he was likely to die within four years as a result of his HIV.
For now Sean, who in addition to his Welsh home also owns a luxury flat in London's Canary Wharf, says he has learnt to be more upbeat about his HIV.
Despite not taking any medication for the condition he insists it does not affect him. Yet he is less positive about the prognosis for his lymphoma of the brain.
He says doctors have warned him he is in desperate need of an operation within the next five months or he could die.
Meanwhile, in South Africa another two years passed, during which he says charges were still not brought. It was during this time that he hatched his plan to escape the country.
After managing to obtain a replacement passport, he says he was able to cross the South African border into Lesotho hidden in the boot of a High Commission car, before catching a flight to London.
"While I may have travelled in the boot I do not believe for a minute any of the senior staff knew about this," he said.
"The High Commission would never embarrass themselves in that way - they are the most professional people you will ever meet."
He added: "When I arrived at Heathrow even though I had no money, no job, nothing, when the hatch opened and the supervisor gave me my passport and shook my hand saying 'Welcome home Mr Smith' it was still the best moment of my life."
According to South Africa's national police spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao, a warrant is still out for Smith's arrest.
Yet while Britain does have an arrangement with South Africa on extradition the Home Office said they were unable to say whether a request had been made.
A spokesman said: "As a matter of long-standing policy and practice, the UK will neither confirm nor deny whether an extradition request has been made or received until such time as a person is arrested in relation to the request."
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We were aware of Mr Smith's detention in South Africa. We provided full consular assistance including visiting Mr Smith on several occasions."