Company of Canadian facing charges of graft, Cuba says legitimate transactions wrongly treated as graft

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By Peter Orsi, The Associated Press

Havana: The company and family of a Canadian business executive awaiting a court ruling in Cuba defended him against accusations of graft, arguing that what were in fact “legitimate commercial transactions” were wrongly characterized as corrupt at trial.

A two-page statement sent to The Associated Press by the Tokmakjian Group also complained that company president Cy Tokmakjian’s trial, which ended June 21, was unfairly stacked against him.

It said he was held without charge for two years while the results of the investigation were kept secret, and then given just two months to present a defence. Meanwhile 14 of 18 proposed defence witnesses, including international tax experts, were rejected by the court without explanation.

“We are concerned that the outcome of the trial is predetermined given the reluctance by the Cuban authorities to rectify gross procedural mistakes,” the statement said.

Prosecutors are seeking 15 years for Tokmakjian and 8 to 20 for more than a dozen others named as defendants. They include two more Canadians as well as Cuban employees of the company, government officials and workers at state-run businesses.

On Monday, Communist Party newspaper Granma said Tokmakjian was accused of corruption to obtain benefits in contract negotiations, unauthorized financial transactions, illegally taking large amounts of money out of the country, falsifying documents to avoid taxes and payroll irregularities. A ruling is expected soon.

Tokmakjian is among a number of foreigners and dozens of Cubans arrested in 2011 as part of a high-profile crackdown on graft that targeted multiple businesses operating in the country.

Another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was sentenced to nine years in 2013 but freed earlier this year and allowed to return home.

Though Cuban authorities made no details publicly available while the trial was ongoing, its outcome is sure to be scrutinized by the foreign business community and likely by potential investors.