Cuba probes dealings of Canadian trading firm

Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:38pm EDT
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban authorities are investigating the business dealings of Canadian firm Tri-Star Caribbean, one of the best known trading companies on the island, foreign business and diplomatic sources said this week.

The cause of the investigation was not clear, but it appeared to be the latest looking into kickbacks involving Cuban imports, sources said.

Company President Sarkis Yacoubian was picked up in mid-July for questioning, they said, and since then as many as 50 to 60 people, mainly company sales personnel, state purchasers and functionaries, have been questioned and in some cases imprisoned.

Cuban President Raul Castro has made fighting corruption a top priority since taking over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, and in the past year a number of Cuban officials and foreign businessmen have been charged in graft cases.

Tri-Star Caribbean does business with a broad assortment of ministries and state-run businesses -- from tourism, transportation and construction to the nickel and oil industries, communications and public health.

The company has one of the largest foreign trading offices in Havana and has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transportation, construction and other equipment and machinery to the communist-run country since 1996.

Yacoubian, an Armenian-born Canadian citizen, has always gotten a tip of the hat from other foreign traders for his deftness at navigating the turbulent and murky waters of Cuba's export-import businesses.

HIGH PROFILE   Continued...