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Cuba Tries Canadian Businessman

Cuba Tries Canadian Businessman
June 16, 2014
by Café Fuerte

HAVANA TIMES — The trial of Canadian entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian,
arrested more than two years ago on corruption charges in Cuba, has been
underway since June 9th in a Havana court and is expected to extend for
at least two weeks, said sources related to the case.

Tokmakjian, 74, is charged along with 16 others involved in the
operations of his company registered in Cuba, the powerful Tokmakjian
Group. The trial takes place behind closed doors, with limited access to
relatives of the accused.

The source said representatives of the Canadian Embassy in Havana
attended the hearings last week.

The trial ends a prolonged investigation for alleged bribery, tax
evasion, breach of contract and other commercial crimes committed by
Tokmakjian or his subordinates. The defendants could face sentences of
between eight and 15 years in prison.

Festering corruption case

However, the trial looks designed not only to solve one of the biggest
corruption cases involving foreign companies in Cuba over the last
decade, but also to find a solution to the difficult situation caused
the government of Raul Castro by the indefinite detention without
charges of Tokmakjian.

The businessman is the most notorious of the foreign executives who
remain under custody on the island, after the anti-corruption raids
unleashed by the Cuban regime since 2009. With the Foreign Investment
Act just days from taking force and the urgency of attracting foreign
capital to boost the ailing national economy, finding a solution for
this case seems most reasonable.

“I think at this point in time what Cuba least needs are detentions and
litigation with foreign businessmen and companies,” a diplomatic source
requesting anonymity told CaféFuerte. “Having a businessman arrested for
two and a half years without charges is not very exciting to the ears of
investors.”

In April 2013, the Cuban government officially canceled the operations
of Tokmakjian Group, one of the largest foreign firms that operated for
the last 25 years in Cuba, arguing violations incurred in their business
activities within the national territory.

Lawsuit in Canada

The Tokmakjian Group responded with a lawsuit against the Cuban
government, filed with the Superior Court of Ontario, Canada. The
complaint alleges that its assets were improperly confiscated and blames
the Cuban authorities for interfering in the business relations of the
company with its customers.

In September 2011, Cuban State Security agents occupied and sealed the
premises of the company on the fourth floor of the Miramar Trade Center
Barcelona building, in Havana. Tokmakjian was arrested and has since
remained in the prison for foreigners in La Condesa, in the town of
Guines, Mayabeque.

The move was accompanied by a letter from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the State Council, sent to Cuban companies, to stop all
trade with the Tokmakjian Group.

Based in Ontario, the Takmakjian Group was the second largest foreign
company in Cuba after Sherritt International. It sold about $80 million
annually in equipment for construction and mining.

The company was also the exclusive distributor of Hyundai in Cuba and
was associated with two other firms for the replacement engines for
transport equipment from the Soviet era.

Serious concerns

Through a statement issued this week, the Tokmakjian Group confirmed the
innocence of its chief executive and emphasized that at no time did the
company’s operations violate Cuban law.

“The allegations and charges brought by the Cuban authorities against
Tokmakjian Group are completely unfounded, which the defense will
clearly demonstrate,” said Lee Hacker, Tokmakjian family spokesman and
vice president of finance of the company.

However, Haker said that there are serious concerns about the lack of
due process, transparency and independence of the Cuban judicial system,
leading the family to fear that the trial’s outcome is already determined.

The trial against Tokmakjian occurs exactly one year and one month after
another major Canadian entrepreneur, Sarkis Yacoubian, was tried and
sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of bribery, tax evasion and
activities harmful to the national economy. Yacoubian, who was detained
since July 2011, cooperated with the Cuban authorities and was released
last February, allowing him to return to Canada to serve the remainder
of his sentence.

Both businessmen of Armenian origin started their business in Cuba
together and later decided to separate. Tokmakjian signed his first
contract with the Cuban government in 1988.

In June 2013, the British businessmen Amado Fakhre and Stephen Purvis,
executive director and chief operating officer of the firm Coral Capital
until 2011, were also released after being held in prison for almost two
years and standing trial for corruption. It was never revealed if the
charges against them were dropped or if the court imposed a lesser sentence.

Source: Cuba Tries Canadian Businessman – Havana Times.org –
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=104320

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