A Canadian automobile executive imprisoned in Cuba on corruption charges for more than three years was released Saturday after Cuba's government ended a case that it called a demonstration of the fight against bribery and critics said was a warning against doing business there.
Cy Tokmakijian's case was seen by some as a loose end in the U.S.-Cuba deal late last year that led to the release of three Cuban intelligence agents in exchange for U.S. contractor Alan Gross and CIA spy Rolando Sarraff Trujillo. Canada and the Vatican hosted key talks in 18 months of negotiations leading up to the exchange, which was accompanied by a joint move to restore full diplomatic relations between the countries.
Canadian officials declined to comment on whether the deal boosted their efforts to win freedom for Tokmakjian, who was serving 15 years in prison after his arrest in a 2011 anti-graft drive that swept up Cuban officials and foreign business executives from at least five nations.
Tokmakjian, 74, was sentenced in September and his representatives said that firm managers Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche got shorter sentences. Their whereabouts were not immediately clear Saturday.
Tokmakjian family says his prosecution was an excuse to seize his Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group's $100 million US in assets in Cuba. Some potential investors in Cuba said the case made them wary of Cuba's drive to draw billions in new foreign investment.
"Cy returns home in good health, fantastic spirits, and is looking forward to spending time with his family," lawyer Barry Papazian said.
Foreign people doing business in Cuba have long considered payoffs ranging from a free meal to cash deposits in overseas accounts to be an unavoidable cost of business there. They have skeptically greeted government assertions that rooting out rampant corruption is among the country's highest priorities.
"His ordeal is a cautionary tale to any investor who thinks the Cuban playing field is level," said Peter Kent, Tokmakjian's MP.
No immediate reason was given for the sudden release of Tokmakjian, whom Cuba had previously hailed as a model business partner over 20 years for supplying crucial transportation equipment during a severe economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Throughout the time Tokmakjian was tried in June and sentenced in September, the Canadian government was helping the United States and Cuba by serving as host to secret talks on restoring diplomatic ties.
It was unknown whether Canada's role had any influence on Tokmakjian's release.