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Good deal gone bad: two British investors jailed without charge in Havana

Good deal gone bad: two British investors jailed without charge in Havana

Businessmen who planned to build a £325m luxury golf resort are feared

to be victims of Caribbean island's anti-corruption drive

Cahal Milmo Author Biography

Tuesday 05 June 2012

When Cuba and its Communist regime made it known they were open to

foreign investment, Britain's Coral Capital Group and its top

London-based executives were in the vanguard of the flurry of money men

who beat a path to Havana to pour millions into the country's

picturesque but creaking infrastructure.

At first, all went well for Andrew Purvis, an arts-loving architect, and

Amado Fakhre, a Lebanese-born British citizen, who moved out to Cuba

several years ago with their families. Coral Capital and its wealthy

backers secured a series of partnership deals with state-owned

companies, and was soon involved in everything from a plastics factory

to an £18m building refurbishment that created one of Havana's most

sought-after hotels.

Then, with their greatest prize yet seemingly within their reach – a

£325m luxury golf course and resort – it all went wrong. The two men,

both British citizens, are currently languishing in without

charge on apparent suspicion of making corrupt payments to further

business deals.

Mr Purvis, who was detained in March, and Mr Fakhre, who has been held

since October, have both been questioned at the Villa Marista, the

headquarters of the Cuban Interior Ministry's counter-intelligence

directorate which has held hundreds of political prisoners since Fidel

Castro's 1959 revolution. Security officials are known to boast that

everyone eventually "sings" after a spell in the villa.

The Foreign Office this week confirmed that diplomats have been able to

gain access to the two Britons. But the conditions in which the men are

being held remain unclear – along with the detailed reasons for their

detention.

An FCO spokesman said: "We can confirm that two British nationals have

been arrested. We continue to provide consular assistance to them and

their families."

Coral Capital, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands and has

its UK offices in the heart of Westminster, told The Independent: "Our

colleagues remain in custody in Havana. Very little information has been

provided to us by the Cuban authorities, and to date no formal charges

exist against these individuals. The directors of Coral Capital Group

have offered full co-operation to the Cuban authorities and very much

hope that Mr Fakhre and Mr Purvis will be released soon."

The extra-judicial detention of the two Britons is part of a wider

crackdown by the Caribbean island's authorities on alleged corruption

involving state-owned businesses and their foreign partners. Last year,

two Canadian companies were closed down by the authorities, while two

Chilean businessmen with dealings in Cuba were sentenced in absentia to

a total of 35 years imprisonment for bribery. A host of Cuban managers

in sectors from sugar to cigars, including former friends of Fidel

Castro, have also been arrested.

An exodus of foreign companies – Britain's Unilever is understood to be

in the process of winding up its 15-year partnership in Cuba (the

company has not been accused of corruption) – does not sit well with

plans announced last year by the government of 's brother,

Raul, to embark on a multibillion-dollar building programme involving

marinas, manufacturing zones and up to 12 luxury golf courses, financed

by foreign investors.

Coral Capital, which was set up in 1999 and is funded by between 20 and

30 high-net-worth individuals and a private equity group, had been in a

unique position to capitalise on that opportunity. Mr Purvis, 51, who

once described himself as being probably Havana's only member of the

Royal Institute of British Architects, had immersed himself in Cuban

life, becoming a vice-chairman of an international school and a producer

of a dance show, Havana Rakatan, which has successfully gone on tour to

Australia and the West End.

As chief operating officer of Coral Capital, he and Mr Fakhre, who is

chief executive, employed a staff of 35 in two offices in Havana to

oversee ventures ranging from the sale of Land Rovers to running hotels.

In an interview last year, Mr Purvis said: "We have invested time here;

we've moved our families here. We understand the culture. Cubans want to

do business with people they know."

The jewel in the crown of the company's portfolio is the Bellomonte golf

resort – a vast project, shared like other foreign ventures on a 50-50

basis with a Cuban company, to convert a dazzling stretch of pristine

coast east of Havana into a resort with 1,100 villas and apartments, an

18-hole golf course, a beachfront and commercial space. Work on

the first phase, costing £80m, had been due to start later this year.

The development of golf is of both symbolic and economic importance in

Cuba. One of Fidel Castro's first acts after the revolution – after

being photographed playing a few rounds in Havana with his

comrade-in-arms Che Guevara – was to close nearly all of the country's

courses.

But with the rise in the sport's global popularity, the prospect of

attracting big-spending golfers from Europe and beyond to a series of

state-of-the-art golfing resorts is at the heart of 's

masterplan to reinvigorate the island's Soviet-style economy.

Experts on Cuba, where the number of foreign joint ventures has fallen

from 700 a decade ago to about 240 today, say the corruption

investigations rest on a disparity between the salary paid to managers

of state enterprises, who like almost all workers receive around £13 a

month, and turnover, which can reach many millions of dollars.

Small under-the-table payments of $100 (£65) are thought to be common,

although Cuban investigators have also seized millions of dollars from

senior officials accused of bribery.

It is not known whether Mr Purvis or Mr Fakhre, who has apparently been

told he will not face serious charges, are accused of wrongdoing in

connection with the golf course project or any other of Coral Capital's

areas of activity. In the meantime, human rights campaigners have raised

concern and the Bellomonte project remains on ice.

Laritza Diversent, a Havana-based human rights lawyer, said: "If people

are detained without charge, it is an act by the authorities."

Villa Marista

The Havana prison where the two Britons are being held was originally a

Catholic school for boys. Later it became notorious for its detention of

political prisoners by the Cuban national security agency.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/good-deal-gone-bad-two-british-investors-jailed-without-charge-in-havana-7815156.html

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2 Responses to Good deal gone bad: two British investors jailed without charge in Havana

  • gustavo chacon says:

    THIS PROPERTY IN CUBA IS OWN BY NOW AMERICAN CITIZENS IN THE USA, THE TOWN IS NOT A FISHING VILLAGE AS SAID BUT A VACATION AND SUMMER HOUSES AND SEVERAL HOTELS FOR WEEKEND AND HOLIDAYS. MUST OF THIS PROPERTY IS OWNED BY GUANABO S.A. AND COMPANIA FOMENTO DE GUANABO S.A. AND AQUIFER ALSO SUPPLY WATER FOR THE TOWN .WILL YOU BUY SOMEONES ELSE PROPERTY??????? WHAT IF CASTRO DIED TOMORROW . CHAIRS OF THIS CORP. ARE IN MIAMI, WILL IT BE LIKE IN GERMANY AFTER THE WALL WENT DOWN

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