Cuba sentences Canadian CEO to 15 years on financial charges

Sat Sep 27, 2014 9:15pm EDT
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban court has sentenced Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian to 15 years in prison for bribery and other economic charges in a case his company and Western diplomats have called a chilling development for potential foreign investors.

Two of his aides from the Tokmakjian Group received sentences of 12 and 8 years, and Cuba seized about $100 million worth of the company's assets, the Ontario-based transportation firm said in a statement.

The Tokmakjian Group, which did an estimated $80 million in business annually with Cuba until it was shuttered in September 2011, called the case a "show trial" and a "travesty of justice."

Fourteen Cubans were also charged. The result of their cases was unknown. Cuba has yet to comment on the verdict or sentencing. "Lack of due process doesn't begin to describe the travesty of justice that is being suffered by foreign businessmen in Cuba," the company statement said. The Tokmakjian Group was one of the more successful foreign companies in Cuba, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment.

Then it was suddenly caught up in an investigation of Cuba's international trading sector as part of a crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro.

The case also strained Cuba's relationship with Canada, and the company has pressed the Canadian government to ask Cuba for the release of the three executives. Western diplomats have called into question the charges, saying the evidence was weak, and said it would dissuade foreign investors at a time Cuba is actively seeking partners from abroad to do business on the communist-ruled island.

Lead defendant Cy Tokmakjian, 74, the company's founder and president, has been jailed for more than three years on charges that include bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and falsifying bank documents.

Fellow Canadians Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche were sentenced to 12 and 8 years each, respectively, said Lee Hacker, the company's spokesman and vice president for finance. They have been out of jail in Havana, their passports seized.   Continued...