HAVANA TIMES — The trial of Canadian entrepreneur Cy Tokmakjian, arrested more than two years ago on corruption charges in Cuba, has been underway since June 9th in a Havana court and is expected to extend for at least two weeks, said sources related to the case.
Tokmakjian, 74, is charged along with 16 others involved in the operations of his company registered in Cuba, the powerful Tokmakjian Group. The trial takes place behind closed doors, with limited access to relatives of the accused.
The source said representatives of the Canadian Embassy in Havana attended the hearings last week.
The trial ends a prolonged investigation for alleged bribery, tax evasion, breach of contract and other commercial crimes committed by Tokmakjian or his subordinates. The defendants could face sentences of between eight and 15 years in prison.
Festering corruption case
However, the trial looks designed not only to solve one of the biggest corruption cases involving foreign companies in Cuba over the last decade, but also to find a solution to the difficult situation caused the government of Raul Castro by the indefinite detention without charges of Tokmakjian.
The businessman is the most notorious of the foreign executives who remain under custody on the island, after the anti-corruption raids unleashed by the Cuban regime since 2009. With the Foreign Investment Act just days from taking force and the urgency of attracting foreign capital to boost the ailing national economy, finding a solution for this case seems most reasonable.
“I think at this point in time what Cuba least needs are detentions and litigation with foreign businessmen and companies,” a diplomatic source requesting anonymity told CaféFuerte. “Having a businessman arrested for two and a half years without charges is not very exciting to the ears of investors.”
In April 2013, the Cuban government officially canceled the operations of Tokmakjian Group, one of the largest foreign firms that operated for the last 25 years in Cuba, arguing violations incurred in their business activities within the national territory.
Lawsuit in Canada
The Tokmakjian Group responded with a lawsuit against the Cuban government, filed with the Superior Court of Ontario, Canada. The complaint alleges that its assets were improperly confiscated and blames the Cuban authorities for interfering in the business relations of the company with its customers.
In September 2011, Cuban State Security agents occupied and sealed the premises of the company on the fourth floor of the Miramar Trade Center Barcelona building, in Havana. Tokmakjian was arrested and has since remained in the prison for foreigners in La Condesa, in the town of Guines, Mayabeque.
The move was accompanied by a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Council, sent to Cuban companies, to stop all trade with the Tokmakjian Group.
Based in Ontario, the Takmakjian Group was the second largest foreign company in Cuba after Sherritt International. It sold about $80 million annually in equipment for construction and mining.
The company was also the exclusive distributor of Hyundai in Cuba and was associated with two other firms for the replacement engines for transport equipment from the Soviet era.
Through a statement issued this week, the Tokmakjian Group confirmed the innocence of its chief executive and emphasized that at no time did the company’s operations violate Cuban law.
“The allegations and charges brought by the Cuban authorities against Tokmakjian Group are completely unfounded, which the defense will clearly demonstrate,” said Lee Hacker, Tokmakjian family spokesman and vice president of finance of the company.
However, Haker said that there are serious concerns about the lack of due process, transparency and independence of the Cuban judicial system, leading the family to fear that the trial’s outcome is already determined.
The trial against Tokmakjian occurs exactly one year and one month after another major Canadian entrepreneur, Sarkis Yacoubian, was tried and sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of bribery, tax evasion and activities harmful to the national economy. Yacoubian, who was detained since July 2011, cooperated with the Cuban authorities and was released last February, allowing him to return to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Both businessmen of Armenian origin started their business in Cuba together and later decided to separate. Tokmakjian signed his first contract with the Cuban government in 1988.
In June 2013, the British businessmen Amado Fakhre and Stephen Purvis, executive director and chief operating officer of the firm Coral Capital until 2011, were also released after being held in prison for almost two years and standing trial for corruption. It was never revealed if the charges against them were dropped or if the court imposed a lesser sentence.