October 5, 2014 / 10:45 PM / 3 years ago

Canadian company lays out defense case for its jailed CEO

HAVANA (Reuters) - Defense lawyers for a Canadian executive sentenced to 15 years prison in Cuba on bribery and other charges released a raft of documents on Sunday seeking to bolster their case that Cy Tokmakjian was denied a fair trial.

Canadian transport executive Cy Tokmakjian holds his grandson Christian in an undated family photo released to Reuters in Toronto, September 29, 2014. REUTERS/Raffi Tokmakjian/Handout via Reuters

Tokmakjian’s transportation company said crucial evidence prepared by the defense team was not accepted by the five-judge panel during the two-week trial in June, and relevant witnesses including experts were denied a chance to testify.

The defense documents, released to reporters by a public relations firm, say many of the charges were legally inadmissible and Tokmakjian’s acts did not constitute crimes. For example, Tokmakjian was convicted of paying bribes but defense lawyer Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa said in one of the documents that “gifts, meals and courtesies are presented negatively and out of context” in the charges.

Tokmakjian was convicted by a Cuban court last month and sentenced on charges of bribery, damaging the Cuban economy, illicit economic activity, currency trafficking, fraud and tax evasion, and it ordered the seizure of assets valued at $100 million.

Sixteen others including two Canadian employees of his company, the Tokmakjian Group, were convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 6 to 20 years in a case that has strained Cuba’s relations with Canada, a major trading partner, and could deter foreigners from investing with the communist government.

Tokmakjian, 74 who was arrested three years ago, has denied wrongdoing.

Over 20 years, the privately-held Concord, Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group became one of most successful foreign companies doing business in Cuba, supplying vehicles, motors, parts and construction equipment.

The defense documents said that officials receiving gifts could not have directed contracts to Tokmakjian on their own. Contracts worth more than $1 million, for example, must receive approval from 13 separate levels of bureaucracy, the defense said.

“A vice-minister cannot make these decisions single-handedly,” defense lawyer de la Cruz Ochoa said.

This referred to one of the 14 convicted Cubans, former vice-minister of the sugar ministry, Nelson Labrada, who was sentenced to 20 years for taking bribes from Tokmakjian and directing millions of dollars worth of contracts his way.

The court cited numerous gifts that Labrada received from Tokmakjian or his companies including family vacations, a gambling trip to Niagara Falls, bottles of liquor and a flat-screen TV.

A lawyer for Labrada, Carlos Manuel Perez Ricardo, told Reuters he received gifts, as the court found in its verdict, but said they played no role in directing state business to Tokmakjian.

The defense documents say Tokmakjian treated Labrada to weeklong vacations to a beach resort only because his wife was a company employee, and the families of all Tokmakjian employees enjoyed that benefit.

Cuba said Tokmakjian’s dealings with Cuban state companies caused $91 million in damage to the Cuban state. While such companies are closely tied to the state, the defense used the letter of the law to argue that such damage could not be possible. It cited law establishing that those companies were independent of the state, meaning the state cannot claim any damages done to one of those companies.

In addition, the tax evasion charge ignored a dual-taxation agreement Cuba has with Barbados, the defense said. Tokmakjian operated through a number of companies, including one called Tokmakjian International, which is incorporated in Barbados. The taxes were duly paid in Barbados, the defense said.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta. Editing by David Adams and Frances Kerry

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