Canadian businessman goes on trial in Cuban corruption crackdown

Thu May 23, 2013 1:14am EDT
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Canadian businessman who has confessed to bribing Cuban officials was scheduled to go on trial in Havana on Thursday, almost two years after his arrest in a sweeping government crackdown on corruption.

The closed trial of 53-year-old Sarkis Yacoubian, originally from Armenia and the owner of import firm Tri-Star Caribbean, was expected to last two days. An associate of Yacoubian, Lebanese citizen Krikor Bayassalian, is a co-defendant.

The corruption trials of at least three other Canadian and British executives who were arrested shortly after Yacoubian was taken into custody in July 2011 are expected to follow.

The arrests were unprecedented for Cuba, where foreign businessmen suspected of corruption are usually deported, and viewed as a measure of President Raul Castro's determination to clean up a vice he views as a threat to Cuba's socialist system.

They sent shockwaves through Cuba's small foreign business community where the companies involved were among the most visible players.

Cuba's state-run media, however, has not yet reported the Yacoubian trial, nor mentioned the arrests and crackdown on foreign trade.

After his arrest, Yacoubian quickly cooperated with prosecutors, confessing to bribery and implicating other foreign firms, which sparked an investigation into the communist-run country's import business.

Within months, dozens of Cuban officials and state purchasers were behind bars.   Continued...