HAVANA TIMES — The trial of Canadian businessman Vahe Cy Tokmakjian, accused of corruption, traffic of hard currency and tax evasion in Cuba, ended with a guilty verdict and a petition to incarcerate former Cuban vice-minister Nelson Ricardo Labrada for 20 years, Cuban government authorities reported.
According to a note published by Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, during the trial, held at Havana’s Provincial Court from June 9 to 21, charges were brought against Tokmakjian, Canadian businessmen Marco Vinicio Puche Rodriguez and Claudio Franco Vetere, as well as against 14 high Cuban government officials and executives.
The press note is the first official statement about the Tokmakjian case and the proceedings against him published in Cuba.
According to the report, charges of bribery, acts damaging of the economy and employment, falsification of bank and commercial instruments, fraud, traffic of hard currency and tax evasion were brought against the 17 accused.
Considerable Financial Damage
“The Attorney General’s Office of Cuba accused Vahe Cy Tokmakjian of using fraudulent and corrupt mechanisms to secure benefits in negotiations with Cuban entities, causing considerable financial damage to our economy, acting as a financial intermediary without due authorization, taking large sums of money out of the country illegally, altering account books and sworn statements with a view to evading tax obligations and making monetary payments to several employees who performed duties different from those legally authorized or who had not been hired by domestic companies,” the official note explained.
The prosecution asked for a 15 year prison sentence for Tokmakjian, president of the Tokmakjian Group, and a 20 year conviction for Labrada Fernandez, who served as vice-minister of Cuba’s former Ministry of Sugar until his arrest in September of 2011.
The other Cuban officials implicated in the crimes (for whom the prosecution requested between 8 and 12 years in prison) are:
1. Manuel Heriberto Fernandez Santiesteban (Ministry of Sugar)
2. Leonardo Fidel Delgado Dorta (Ministry of Sugar)
3, Jorge Luis Machado Perez (Ministry of Sugar)
4. Jose René Rubio Escobar (Ministry of Sugar)
5. Alberto Cirilo Panton Grahan ( former general manager of Cubaniquel)
6. Ernesto Gomez Cumplido (former president of Ferroníquel Minera S.A.)
7. Fidel Penin Oliva (former Ministry of Basic Industry)
8. Jorge Luis Melo Reyes (former president of the Asociación Economica Internacional CISTUR, attached to the Ministry of Tourism)
9. Edmundo Javier Cabrera Díaz (Tokmakjian Group branch in Cuba)
10. Antonio Gilí Gonzaez (Tokmakjian Group branch in Cuba)
11. Boris Ernesto Barber Velis (Tokmakjian Group branch in Cuba)
12. Armando Enrique Martinez Ganfo (Tokmakjian Group branch in Cuba)
13. Elsa Fernandez Proenza (Tokmakjian Group branch in Cuba)
During the proceedings, the prosecution called the foreign companies Tokmakjian Group Inc; Tokmakjian Limited, C.Y.M.C. and Tokmakjian International Inc. to the stand as liable third parties.
According to the report, the declarations of the accused and numerous items of evidence, testimonies and statements by experts of the Treasury Inspector’s Office, the National Tax Administration Bureau (ONAT) and the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Investment were considered during the oral hearing.
The prosecution also asked the court to request that the accused pay over US $91 million for damages caused to several Cuban entities and ONAT. This sum will be covered, in part, with the assets and money confiscated from Tokmakjian and his companies during the proceedings.
The proceedings have concluded and the court will hand down the sentences in the coming days. The information on the Tokmakjian case published by the press sets it apart from the trial of another important Canadian businessman, Sarkis Yacoubina, tried and convicted to nine years in prison on similar charges (and released this past February). The trial of Yacoubian was not reported on by Cuba’s official media.
Tokmakjian, 74 years old and of Armenian origin, has been under arrest since September of 2011, after Cuban State Security agents seized and shut down the locales of his firm on the fourth floor of the Barcelona building at Havana’s Miramar Trade Center.
In April of 2013, during investigations, the Cuban government officially shut down the operations of the Tokmakjian Group, one of the largest foreign companies to have operated in Cuba over the past 25 years.
Based in Ontario, Canada, the Tokmakjian Group was second only to Sherrit International in terms of the scope of its financial operations in Cuba. It took in some US $ 80 million annually through the sale of construction and mining equipment.
The company was also Hyundai’s exclusive distributor in Cuba and had partnered up with two other companies to replace the engines of Soviet-era equipment on the island.
The Tokmakjian Group has filed a suit against the Cuban government before the Supreme Court of Justice of Ontario, Canada. The company alleges that the assets of the Tokmakjian Group were confiscated illegally and accuses Cuban authorities of interfering in the company’s commercial dealings with its clients.