Company of Canadian facing Cuba charges says legitimate transactions wrongly treated as graft
Company of Canadian facing Cuba charges says legitimate transactions
wrongly treated as graft
By Peter Orsi, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press
HAVANA – The company and family of a Canadian business executive
awaiting a court ruling in Cuba defended him against accusations of
graft, arguing that what were in fact “legitimate commercial
transactions” were wrongly characterized as corrupt at trial.
A two-page statement sent to The Associated Press by the Tokmakjian
Group also complained that company president Cy Tokmakjian’s trial,
which ended June 21, was unfairly stacked against him.
It said he was held without charge for two years while the results of
the investigation were kept secret, and then given just two months to
present a defence. Meanwhile 14 of 18 proposed defence witnesses,
including international tax experts, were rejected by the court without
“We are concerned that the outcome of the trial is predetermined given
the reluctance by the Cuban authorities to rectify gross procedural
mistakes,” the statement said.
Prosecutors are seeking 15 years for Tokmakjian and 8 to 20 for more
than a dozen others named as defendants. They include two more Canadians
as well as Cuban employees of the company, government officials and
workers at state-run businesses.
On Monday, Communist Party newspaper Granma said Tokmakjian was accused
of corruption to obtain benefits in contract negotiations, unauthorized
financial transactions, illegally taking large amounts of money out of
the country, falsifying documents to avoid taxes and payroll
irregularities. A ruling is expected soon.
Tokmakjian is among a number of foreigners and dozens of Cubans arrested
in 2011 as part of a high-profile crackdown on graft that targeted
multiple businesses operating in the country.
Another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was sentenced
to nine years in 2013 but freed earlier this year and allowed to return
Canada’s Foreign Affairs office has said it is monitoring its citizens’
legal cases in Cuba and providing consular services, but declined to
comment further. Ottawa’s ambassador to Havana attended Tokmakjian’s trial.
The statement from the Tokmakjian Group, an international transportation
company based in Concord, Ontario, questioned why an individual was
being held liable for a corporate tax issue, and said any claims were
purely commercial and should have been handled in arbitration rather
than a criminal court.
“A simple and objective reading of recent court decisions will lead to
the conclusion that what is shown as ‘corruption’ is internationally
accepted business practices,” it said. “Commercial activities such as
discounting bills of exchange or providing supplier credit appear as
‘evidences of corruption.’ Earning profits out of a commercial activity
is considered a ‘crime against (the) economic interests of Cuba.’”
Tokmakjian’s trial came to a close within days of a new law taking
effect that Cuba hopes will lure much-needed foreign investment.
Officials say it safeguards commercial and personal property rights.
Though Cuban authorities made no details publicly available while the
trial was ongoing, its outcome is sure to be scrutinized by the foreign
business community and likely by potential investors.
“Although no one will (dispute) the legitimacy of Cuba to combat
corruption,” the Tokmakjian Group statement said, “this fight against
corruption has been used as an excuse to deprive companies operating in
Cuba of their rights and assets with no compensation.”
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed.
Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi
Source: Company of Canadian facing Cuba charges says legitimate
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