HAVANA, 28 September (Michael Weissenstein AP) A Canadian automobile executive has been sentenced to 15 years in Cuban prison on corruption-related charges that officials here call part of a broad campaign against graft, his company said Saturday.
Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group said the charges against its president, Cy Tokmakjian, 74, were concocted as an excuse to seize the automotive firm’s $100 million in assets in Cuba. The company described the case Saturday as “absurd” and a “travesty of justice.”
The company’s Cuban offices were raided in 2011 as Cuba launched an anti-graft drive that has swept up foreign business executives from at least five nations as well as government officials and dozens of Cuban employees at key state-run companies.
Foreign business people have long considered payoffs ranging from a free meal to cash deposits in overseas accounts to be an unavoidable cost of doing business in Cuba. President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is one of the country’s most important challenges. More than 150 foreign business people and dozens of small South American and European companies have been kicked out of the country under the anti-graft drive.
Several dozen defendants have ended up in jail, including a few foreigners and high government officials accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes. Such cases, and questions about their fairness, have chilled many current and potential investors in Cuba, which is trying to attract foreign capital to jumpstart the stagnant economy.
Cuba’s judicial system is known for speedy proceedings behind closed doors with little or no media access. Cuban officials have said little about the Tokmakjian case beyond announcing last year that the Tokmakjian Group’s operating license had been rescinded due to unspecified actions “that are contrary to the principles and ethics that should characterize commercial activity, and contravene Cuban judicial order.”
Tokmakjian managers Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche got 12- and 8-year sentences, respectively, company vice-president Lee Hacker told The Associated Press. He said the company’s lawyers were notified of the sentences on Friday. The Canadian company said its president had been allowed to call only four of the 18 expert witnesses he wanted to testify.
“The deception taking place in Cuba is beyond imagination,” the company said. “Lack of due process doesn’t begin to describe the travesty of justice.” The company’s website lists its head office in Concord, Ont. The website says it provides both transportation services and engine repairs. With files from The Canadian Press