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Cuba frees Canadian businessman Tokmakjian after three years in jail

Cuba frees Canadian businessman Tokmakjian after three years in jail
BY DANIEL TROTTA
HAVANA Sat Feb 21, 2015 5:52pm EST

(Reuters) – Cuba has freed Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian after more
than three years in jail, his company said on Saturday, resolving a case
that had strained Cuban-Canadian relations and alarmed foreign investors.

Tokmakjian, founder of the Ontario-based company, was convicted of
bribery and other charges and sentenced to 15 years in September in what
the transportation company had called a “show trial” and a “travesty of
justice.”

Cuban prosecutors had outlined a pattern in which Tokmakjian wooed Cuban
officials and their families with a series of gifts, helping the
Tokmakjian Group do business estimated at $80 million annually with Cuba
until the company was shuttered and its founder arrested in September 2011.

Tokmakjian “was welcomed home by his family, friends, and thousands of
employees,” said the company statement, which also thanked the Canadian
government.

The statement made no mention of two Canadian aides from the Tokmakjian
Group, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, who were also convicted and
sentenced to 12 and 8 years. They had been under house arrest pending
trial and while their convictions were being appealed.

Fourteen Cubans including the former deputy sugar minister and the
former director of the state nickel company were also convicted and
sentenced to terms ranging from 6 to 20 years.

Foreign companies and diplomats had raised concerns that Tokmakjian’s
case could scare off investors while Cuba was actively seeking foreign
capital. It also annoyed Canada, a major trading partner.

“His ordeal is a cautionary tale to any investor who thinks the Cuban
playing field is level,” said Peter Kent, Tokmakjian’s member of parliament.

Cuba seized about $100 million worth of company assets including bank
accounts, inventory and office supplies, a ruling the company was
challenging in international arbitration.

No immediate reason was given for the sudden release of Tokmakjian, whom
Cuba had previously hailed as a model business partner over 20 years for
supplying crucial transportation equipment during a severe economic
crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Then the company was suddenly caught up in an investigation of Cuba’s
international trading sector as part of a crackdown on corruption.

Throughout the time Tokmakjian was tried in June and sentenced in
September, the Canadian government was helping the United States and
Cuba by serving as host to secret talks on restoring diplomatic ties.

It was unknown whether Canada’s role had any influence on Tokmakjian’s
release.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, additional reporting by David Ljunggren in
Toronto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Source: Cuba frees Canadian businessman Tokmakjian after three years in
jail | Reuters –
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/21/us-cuba-corruption-canada-idUSKBN0LP0QA20150221

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