Hans Pelgrom, an Englishman of Dutch descent, and Andrew Reynolds, his business partner, who is also British, got into trouble trying to sell timeshares on the Isle of Wight to people living in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Near- rioting Mongolians surrounded their headquarters after changing their minds about the Isle of Wight flats.
Ninety-two people in Ulan Bator were originally so taken with the opportunity to sample the delights of the Isle of Wight that they were willing to stump up $9,000 (pounds 5,600) each for a one-week timeshare at the Hazel Green Village development. The weather also appealed: July temperatures and rainfall are similar in Mongolia and the Isle of Wight, but in January Sandown is a balmy 3C while the Mongolian capital can plummet to minus 32C.
But soon after the first downpayments were made, things started to go awry for Mr Reynolds and Mr Pelgrom. The Mongolians demanded their $2,000 deposits back. But the pair say they had already spent the cash on running their business.
Together with several Romanian colleagues, they ran up a $6,000 bill at Ulan Bator's finest hotel, the Genghis Khan, and local newspapers also reported that they left a phone bill of $40,000 unpaid. Mr Reynolds denied this, but admitted their company, Pelgrom and Reynolds Estates Mongolia, only has $12,000 in its account.
The duo first arrived in the former Soviet satellite in May after deciding to expand from their business base in Romania. They are clearly more used to a police force protecting them from clients who feel they have been duped and were taken aback by the more robust Mongolian approach. Speaking from the safety of his home in Romania Mr Reynolds said yesterday: "They were like animals outside the office and the police refused to do anything. There were 30 or 40 people outside screaming and shouting. We had to pay for the running of the office and so they can't have their money back. If we'd been allowed to keep on trading there was a chance they could have."
Mr Reynolds and his Romanian wife left Ulan Bator in July after the first difficulties were encountered. Mr Pelgrom followed two weeks later. Mr Reynolds said he was relieved to escape. "In Mongolia there doesn't seem to be any procedure and the police are not interested if you are foreign."
In early August, against the advice of his partner, Mr Pelgrom, with a Romanian colleague, returned to Mongolia where their passports were confiscated at the airport.
After several weeks it became clear it was impossible to do any more business and that they had to get out of Mongolia and across the border into Siberia. The only way to cross was on horseback. They were arrested by the Russian authorities on 21 September and charged on 7 October with crossing the border illegally.
They have been refused bail and are being held in five-man, jail cells which, though sparse and cold, are safe. Had they ended up in a Mongolian prison, Mr Reynolds fears their fate would have been much worse: "I said to an Englishman who knows the country very well, 'Three months is a death sentence'. He said: 'A week is a death sentence, they would kill you in there.' "
No senior official from the Mongolian embassy in London was available for comment yesterday but their telephonist highlighted the problems of trying to sell modern western products in countries new to capitalism. When asked if he knew what timeshare holiday homes were, the man asked: "Are they tents?"Reuse content