Cuba Sentences Canadian Businessman to 15-years in Prison

By Café Fuerte

The entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian arrested in Cuba since September 2011.
The entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian was arrested in Cuba in September 2011.

HAVANA TIMES — Canadian businessman Vahe Cy Tokmakjian, 74, president of the Tokmakjian Group, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Cuban court on charges of corruption, trafficking hard currencies and tax evasion conducted on the island.

Tokmakjian’s lawyers were informed of the sentence on Friday, announced a brief statement from the Ontario based company.

The information added that two other Canadian citizens and board members of the Tokmakjian Group in Cuba, entrepreneurs Claudio Franco and Marco Vinicio Vetere Puche Rodríguez, were sentenced to 12 and eight years in prison, respectively.

“The disappointment that takes place in Cuba exceeds all imagination,” reads the statement from the Tokmakjian Group, released Saturday. “The lack of due process does not begin to describe the travesty of justice there.”

After three months of waiting

The sentence becomes public three months after the trial held for Tokmakjian, Vetere, Puche and 14 senior Cuban officials and executives. The process took place in the People’s Provincial Tribunal of Havana between June 9-21, and the Cuban authorities promised then that the decision be known “in the coming days.”

The Cuban media have made no reference to the sentences and the fate of the Cuban defendants, including former deputy Minister of Sugar, Nelson Ricardo Labrada Fernandez, for whom the prosecution asked for 20 years in prison.

Tokmakjián remains arrested since September 2011, when State Security agents occupied and sealed the premises of his company on the fourth floor of the Miramar Trade Center, in Havana. Labrada was also arrested around the same time.

According to the official report issued on June 29, the trial of the 17 accused were performed based on the crimes of bribery, acts to the detriment of economic activity or recruitment, altered accounting records and extracting large sums of money from country and tax evasion.

The Cuban Attorney General accused Tokmakjian of using “fraudulent and corrupt mechanisms to obtain benefits in negotiations with Cuban entities, causing considerable losses to our economy; performing unauthorized operations of financial intermediation; illegally extracting large sums of money; altering accounting records and false affidavits in order to evade their tax obligations.”

The Canadian was also accused of giving monetary rewards to several workers who performed functions that were not part of their contracts when recruited by the government employment agency.

The prosecution also asked the court to order the defendants to pay more than $91 million dollars in damaged caused the Cuban entities and the Tax Administration. However, the Tokmakjian Group claims that Cuba seized about $100 million in company assets.

In April 2013, in the midst of investigating the case, the Cuban government officially canceled operations of the Tokmakjian Group after 25 years of business in the island.

Based in Ontario, Tokmakjian Group was the second largest foreign trade company in Cuba, after Sherritt International, with about US $80 million in sales of equipment for construction and mining. The firm also had exclusive rights to distribute Hyundai in the Cuban market and was associated with two other companies for the replacement engines for Soviet era transportation equipment.

After the closing its headquarters in Havana, Tokmakjian Group is suing the Cuban government for $200 million at the High Court of Ontario, Canada, and the International Court of Commerce in Paris.


30 thoughts on “Cuba Sentences Canadian Businessman to 15-years in Prison

  • January 8, 2016 at 1:49 am
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    Wayne, you are very knowledgable about CUBA, what you are saying is correct.

  • October 13, 2014 at 7:59 am
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    El gobierno cubano señala a aquellos empresarios cuya sentencia judicial se sabe de antemano que será condenatoria. Los amigos del régimen y los que pagan a los funcionarios sumas extorsivas, son intocables. La Sherritt no escapa de ese juego turbio. Muchos familiares de Raúl Castro se han posicionado en diferentes áreas de gobierno con la finalidad de cobrar “extras” para permanecer en la isla.

  • October 3, 2014 at 4:45 pm
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    Well Wayne, my home is in Cuba and I spend a part of the summer in Canada where my wife joins me from Cuba for her summer vacation from teaching. I’m related to 68 Cubans and address our little dog in Spanish. I do the shopping when my wife is at school – purchasing from people on the street, from peoples front doorsteps and buy the bread from the Empresa 5 pesos for a 200 gram loaf (that is 25% of the average days pay). So living the majority of my time there, well away from any of te tourist spots, I see the reality of life for the average Cuban. I see the regimes five TV channels, as you are possibly aware, reception dishes are illegal.
    The block CDR President is two doors away, he is the eyes and ears of theCommunist Party of Cuba and there is a file on every resident complete with photograph.
    There are many places in Cuba that could be small areas of paradise, were it not for the tentacles of the regime reaching in and goping in every corner. But there is little time to think of paradise if you are a young mother of two children thinking about how you are going to feed them manana when you have only got 10 pesos in your purse.
    Yes, although not my sport, I attend some of the local provincial teams baseball games and watch the vendors trying to sell paper cones of peanuts to eke out a living
    Don’t ever think that I have given up on making my opinions known on Havana Times, it’s just that when in Cuba, there is no form of Internet access available – its the way the regime likes it!

  • October 3, 2014 at 4:44 pm
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    The Sherritt plant at Fort Saskatchewan (Alberta) employs over 20 Cubans. The retired father of one of them – he represnted the regimes interests at various time in Switzerland, Japan and London, has special permission to live in Edmonton,but to retain his Cuban citizenship. So, if your guess is correct, there are some bargaing chips and that ability to refine all the nickel is another (9000 tons per year and once refined in Canada it loses it’s indentity on the world market. Finger laid along side of the nose!
    When in due course I cease to contribute for a period Griffin, you can guess where I am.

  • October 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm
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    OK Wayne, why don’t you look up the Globe and Mail to see what they said – it was remarkably similar. I imagine that you consider everything that is capitalist as crooked. Well there is an alternative called socialism and youy can see the results of fifty five years of continuous socialism in Cuba. The average ‘pay’ is $20.68 per MONTH! This under the Castro family regime.
    Would you really like to exchange the successful capitalism of Canada for the failed socialism of Cuba?
    Remember the Russian revolution ended up bankrupt of both money and ideas, and although socialists think of China as successful, the GDP per capita is a mere $4,430. As you luxuriate in the comfort of the capitalist world, reflect upon how you would manage to live on the average monthly Cuban ‘pay’.
    I suppose that your knowledge of Cuba is based upon a cheap week in Varadero with the package including ‘free’ Beach, Booze and Buffet. Little did you realise that the room you were staying in had a more than 50/50 chance of being owned by Gaviota – the tourism arm of the Cuban Military.

  • October 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm
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    There goes the envy factor yet again! The know alls who suggest that commercial businesses owe their success to their governments.
    Attacking a Conservative government is standard for the left, who were surprisingly quiet when The Canadian Shipping Line accepted $160 million in government grants from a Liberal Government prior to moving their offices to Bermuda to avoid paying Canadian taxes. Who owned the Canadian Shipping Line? Why none other than Paul Martin, Liberal Prime Minister of Canada.
    It was Pierre Elliot Trudeau Liberal Prime Minister who gave Fidel Castro $4 million plus another $10 million interest free – all of it Canadian taxpayers money – and now Pierre’s son Justin is Liberal Party leader.
    It was Jean Chretian as Liberal Prime Minister who opened Terminal 3 at Jose Marti Airport with Fidel Castro Ruz. What did that cost the Canadian taxpayer?
    Remember the Hotel Marie and golf course that were owned by Jean Chretian? Who paid the Federal Governmernt grant that he received?
    The Conservative Harper Government is lily white in comparison. Where is your evidence upon which to base your comments?

  • October 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm
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    “crook”…..well the Group have never been convicted….but have been under suspicion and investigated many times……very smooth operation indeed…..with many connections to the the Harper CONs…..reminds me of Conrad Black…..I’m not sure of all what he did or not do in Cuba….but….many up here in Canada believe he and his Group are “crooks”

  • October 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm
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    I am not your “typical” Canadian tourist….who just go to a resort and a day in Havana…..and don’t know Cuba……not saying I know ALL going on in Cuba….who does?…..I first went to Cuba 1958 to play some winter baseball….I was young….Havana was exciting and “alive”…..but it didn’t take me long to see what was going on with Batista….his mafia…hand in hand with Myron and his thugs…..I went back in 1963……and have been going back ever since….close to 100 times….I have seen the many???….not so many changes…..have many friends…have talked politics….likes and dislikes that my Cuban friends have…I have been involved with baseball in Cuba…I have known and know many players….become a close friend with Ismael Jiminez of the Sancti Spiritus Roosters…who is on the Cuban National team….so I know both sides of the argument regarding players who have jumped to MLB for the $$$$$ and others who refuse….so I do know a “little” of the Cuba and the people I love….acknowledging the “warts” and all…..they just haven’t figured it out…changing WAY to slow…and very scared to have someone come in and “take over” again own their small paradise.

  • October 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm
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    You mean that i wasn’t Michel Trudeau he was holding. Maybe it was a lap dog.

  • October 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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    So Wayne is riding in from the West to set things straight in the Cuban world.
    If Cy Tokmakjian is a crook, Cuba produced no public evidence at all. The trial was held behind closed doors. As a Canadian I am unaware of any murmer that Mr. Takmanjian is anything other than a business man.
    We in Canada do suffer people who as leeches suck upon the energies of people like Mr. Takmanjian paying taxes which support the social programs that people like Wayne use.
    Whereas it may be Wayne’s personal habit to jump into bed with anybody in sight, it certainly cannot be attributed to the Conservative Harper Government. Indeed the Canadian press has criticized that government for not doing enough for Mr. Takmanjian.
    Obviously Wayne is a frustrated socialist who not having much success in life is oozing hate for those who like Mr. Takmanjian have applied their talents, initiative and energy to building a successful business.
    The important point is that living in free Canada Wayne is able to express his loathing for the succesful whereas Mr. Takmanjian waa denied the opporunity to defend himself in open court and now rots in a Cuban jail where again, he is unable to defend himself against the Waynes of this world and totally unfounded slurs. Shame on Wayne!

  • October 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm
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    Sherritt…Labatts…and Canadian tourists….WILL never be touched….”BANK” on it

  • October 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm
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    Very difficult to have “conversation” with people only want to see “one side”….biased…..without ALL the facts……Harper and his CONs in bed with Castro????….NOT….sure Pierre and Fidel were somewhat friends….many conversation….debate…arguments…..but always with respect….not always agreeing

  • October 3, 2014 at 9:57 am
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    The Castro Bros have been doing this shakedown for 55 years. They’re masters of extortion. The Canadian government are way out of their league.

    Remember, the Cuban’s have an ace up their sleeve: Sherritt International. If the Canadian government gets to rough, the Cuban authorities will raid Sherritt’s offices and threaten to toss any Canadians they find in jail.

    And then there is the brewery in Holguin which Labatt operates, the tens of thousands of Canadian tourists… plenty of vulnerable hostages. Nothing so crude as the head choppers of ISIS. But life could be made very difficult for the many Canadians in Cuba at any given time.

  • October 3, 2014 at 9:27 am
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    Thank you for your incisive contribution to this conversation, Wayne.

  • October 3, 2014 at 9:25 am
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    Could you please provide evidence that Tokmakjian is a “crook”? The Tokmanjian Group runs a successful transportation services company, based in Concord, ON, with operations in many countries around the world. http://tokmakjian.com

    Cy Tokmanjian had been doing business in Cuba since the late 1960’s. If what he was doing was illegal, why did the Cuban authorities wait for almost 50 years to arrest him?

    The so-called “anti-corruption” drive in Cuba is nothing more than a cover for a takeover of businesses by the circle around Raul. Since Raul took over as Head Dictator from his brother, a number of businesses which used to be controlled by people close to Fidel have been raided. The assets are then handed over to GAESA, the holding company owned by the FAR. Raul’s son-in-law is the director of GAESA.

  • October 3, 2014 at 7:32 am
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    Injustice, even when it is exacted upon a “crook” as you say is still injustice. Do you know exactly why Tokmakjian is being held in a Cuban gulag? Neither do I. The lack of transparency lends itself to the belief that he and his colleagues have been unjustly held. While it is more than possible that anyone who has been successfully doing business in Cuba for so long is every bit the crook you claim he is and deserving of punishment, it is a KNOWN fact the Castros are even bigger crooks and even more likely to have carried out yet another injustice on a foreign businessman.

  • October 2, 2014 at 11:47 pm
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    The NATIONAL POST is a RW conservative paper….always supporting crooked capitalists

  • October 2, 2014 at 11:37 pm
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    Tokmakjian IS a CROOK….known in Canada as a CROOK ….but the CONs Harper govt is “in bed” with these guys

  • October 2, 2014 at 11:33 pm
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    Not true

  • October 2, 2014 at 12:48 pm
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    Papa Pierre Elliot Trudeau publicly toasted Fidel Castro Ruz, when he visited Cuba, gave them $3 million and lent a furtherr $10 million interest free, all of it Canadian taxpayers money. I think the Harper government will continue it’s pressures on Cuba. It is a moot question whether the typical Canadian tourist flying to Vardero for a week or two of the “3 Bs” (Beach, Booze and Buffet) cares about criminal activity being practised upon a Canadian businessman by a dictatorial socialist regime.
    But remember when that young fellow was jailed for being involved in a car crash, public outrage compelled the Harper government to intervene. My guess is that there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. But the Tokmajian Group action in suing the Castro family regime for $200 million is also a factor. The regime having stolen the Groups property in Cuba, the action is clearly justified.

  • October 2, 2014 at 8:30 am
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    I’m not sure the Harper government will do anything about it. Canadians have too long sipped on the Castro propaganda and don’t believe there is anything wrong with the Castro regime. The one thing that would get Cuba’s attention would be to cut off the flow of Canadian tourists to Cuba. But that would be electoral suicide for Harper. Justin Trudeau & the Liberals would sure win the next election. Given Justin Trudeau’s self-confessed admiration for dictatorships in general and for Fidel Castro in particular, the Liberals would block any attempt by Harper to pressure the Cubans.

    By the way: here’s a picture of Fidel Castro holding Justin Trudeau’s younger brother, Michel: http://www.windsorstar.com/news/cms/binary/3673659.jpg?size=640×420

  • October 1, 2014 at 9:58 pm
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    I forecast below that the publcity in Canada for this case was just starting.
    Today October 1,the Financial Post which is a supplementary to the National Post one of canada’s two national newspapers and is read by a high proportion of Canadian business people published an article. It is entitled:
    “Risky business in Cuba”
    The article reveals that the Canadian government for three years asked Cuba to either lay charges against Cy Tokmakjian or release him. Last week a trial was held behind closed doors and he was at the age of 74 sentenced to 15 years in jail.
    The Financial Post in their lead article says:
    “The conviction appears outrageous, as does the sentencing for shorter terms of two of his executives Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche.”
    “Earlier this year , another Canadian businessman, Sarkis Yacoubian who was arrested before Mr. Tokmakjian, was expelled from Cuba one year into a nine year sentence.”
    The article says:
    “According to a government (Canadian) spokesman John Babcock, “We continue to follow this case closely and remainactively engaged at senior levels. Consular officials continue to provide assistance to Mr. Tokmakjian and his family.”
    The Financial Post continues by saying that the government statement is somewhat bland but, ” grandstanding can be dangereous when one of your nationals is in jail under a barbaric regime. That makes it all the more puzzling why Canada remains one of that barbaric regime’s major aid donors and trading partnerss.”
    The article says:
    The most obvious explanation for arresting Mr. Tokmajian was simply to seize his business, Communist regimes have never needed lessons in theft, but in this case Vladamir Putin’s expropriation of Yukos might have been a model, since “Putinismo” is seen in Cuba as a possible transition fromthe disaster of Communism to crony statism. Clearly the fact that an international arbitration court ordered Russia to pay former Yukos shareholders $50 Billion didn’t deter Cuba. Nevertheless, Tokmanjian Group has launched a $200 million lawsuit against the Cuban regime.”
    The article extends the view upon Putin by saying:
    “Mr. Putin may have thoughts about re-establishing the links with Cuba that were severed when the Soviet empire collapsed. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, for whom Fidel was a role model , eventually tok up the slack of subsidizing the Cuban economy with cheap oil, but Venezuela too is now a basket case, so the return of Russia may be timely if the Castros are to continue their geriatric chokehold.
    This lead article in a prominent national business publication will undoubtedly raise questions for the Government of Canada in addition to waving an appropriate red flag at all potential Canadian investors. Marino Murillo as economic tsar has big problems looming over the horizon.

  • October 1, 2014 at 7:43 am
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    Experience teaches wisdom to those willing to learn from their mistakes:

    “I wouldn’t recommend anyone go to Cuba to invest.” – Lee Hacker, Vice President for Finance, Canada’s Tokmakjian Group.

    “Foreign executives should be under no illusion about the great personal risks they run if they chose to do business [in Cuba].” – Stephen Purvis, Chief Operating Officer, Britain’s Coral Capital, who spent 16 months arbitrarily imprisoned in Cuba and whose company had all of its assets confiscated.

    “Founding a joint venture in Cuba for a small or medium-sized foreign company is the same as putting a noose around your neck.” – Michel Villand, CEO, France’s Pain de Paris, whose two bread factories and thirteen stores in Cuba were abruptly confiscated by the Castro regime.

  • September 30, 2014 at 10:09 am
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    It’s a classic mafia shakedown. The VP for the Canadian firm complained, “”The problem is we don’t know who we’re talking to. It’s like we’re dealing with a ghost”

    Hint: the ghost’s name is Raul.

    Are we to feel pity or outrage for this Canadian businessman? It’s not like he was never warned of the dangers of doing business in Cuba. In the end he is only being treated the same way all the Cuban people have been treated for 55 years, by the same criminal gangsters.

  • September 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm
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    The golden lining to this case is that it has received very widespread publicity in Canada and the implications of the Tommakjian Group suing the Castro family regime in the High Court of Ontario and in particular in the International Court of Commerce.
    The publicity is just starting and will ensure that international companies will think very long and very hard if considering investment in Cuba. Raul Castro Ruz is a babe in arms in the international business world. His fifty five years of controlling the military and developing military directed businesses GAESA, GAVIOTA, RAFIN SA (RAUL $ FIDEL CASTRO). and ETECSA the monopoly telecommunications business of Cuba (with RAFIN SA owning 27% of the shares, seems successful. However when considered against the background of a communist dictatorship wielding total power and control, with no form of competition it assumes a different perspective.
    When “corruption” is in the form of making additional payments to good staff for their dedication to the business is sufficient to send Directors of companies to jail for extended periods, it becomes foolish to even consider investment into the “Socialismo” paradise created by the Castro family regime.
    How many of Cuba’s tourists from Canada realise that under the control of Raul Castro Ruz’s son-in-law General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Gaviota operates 26,000 of the hotel rooms in Cuba and plans another 14,000 over the next three years. That the Cuban Intelligence Service is controlled by Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul Castro Ruz’s son.
    It is probable that these facts will become public knowledge now in Canada and the
    real face of the dictatorship will be revealed.

  • September 29, 2014 at 5:10 pm
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    Well, well, well…… lasts news about this case shows it is all an extortion case…….

    “Regime offered a deal to free Cy Tokmakjian, CEO of Tokmakjian Group, “sentenced” to 15 year in prison in Cuba. Freedom in exchange of 50 millions of dollars and other assets of the group…… said Lee Hacker financial vice CEO of the firm to Europa Press today.”

    “We going to take over all your assets and furthermore you have to pay 50 millions if you want Cy Tokmakjian free”…. said to some Cuban authorities to Hacker.

    Better said this last news confirm what Raffi Tokmakjian said before about extortion when he announced the regime had before offered deals for freeing Cy Tokmakjian. Deals rejected by the family of the abducted businessmen because they considered no crime was committed by Cy.

    The main concern for Tokmakjian family to accept a deal seems to be the lack of credible counterpart said Hacker….. “It is like negotiate with a ghost”….. he said.

  • September 29, 2014 at 9:11 am
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    Through castro regime history many persons believed they were making the century business with the dictator…….. Robert Vesco, Max Marambio and other “wise” guys did not realize they were just considered as saving bank accounts until castro elite needed fast cash for a good and sudden business …. then they were simply robed of their moneis.

  • September 29, 2014 at 9:04 am
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    This case, like so many others, should be a warning to foreign businessman anxious to do business with the Castros. In nearly every case, these relationships start out well with much fanfare and backslapping. Castro operatives slowly begin to ask for favors and greedy foreign businessmen fulfill those favors and ask for favors of their own. Not too long into the relationship both sides of the deal are filthy with corruption. Then, as with the owner of the French business, Pain de Paris, the Castros change their mind about the business and make moves to prosecute the wrongdoings. Let’s hope the Castros decide to send this Canadian back to Canada.

  • September 29, 2014 at 8:50 am
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    I am sorry for this guy and his family, but that is what happen when you deal with a damn dictatorship regime.

  • September 29, 2014 at 7:53 am
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    Hey, who wants to invest in the Mariel super port? Great business opportunities for foreign corporations. You just have to trust the Castro regime doesn’t decide to confiscate your proper and toss you sorry ass in prison one day.

    Let this serve as a warning to any foreign corporations considering investing in Cuba.

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