Business

Cuba seeks 15-year sentence for Canadian businessman

Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison for a Canadian businessman who was arrested in a high-profile crackdown on corruption, Cuban authorities said Monday.

Cy Tokmakjian and 2 Canadian managers arrested in corruption crackdown

Cuba's President Raul Castro waves during the May Day parade in Havana May 1. His anti-corruption crackdown three years ago ensnared several Canadian businessmen, including Cy Tokmakjian. (Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison for a Canadian businessman who was arrested in a high-profile crackdown on corruption, Cuban authorities said Monday.

The trial of Cy Tokmakjian, president of an automotive and transportation company, the Tokmakjian Group, concluded June 12 and a ruling is to be announced "in the coming days," according to an announcement published by Communist Party newspaper Granma and other official media.

The case is being watched closely by the foreign business community in Cuba. President Raul Castro's government has said there is no place for graft in the country, although foreign executives say gifts or cash payments are often demanded in business dealings conducted with low-paid government officials.

Tokmakjian is accused of using corrupt practices to obtain benefits in business negotiations, carrying out unauthorized financial transactions, illegally expatriating large sums of money, altering records to avoid tax obligations and payroll irregularities.

Monday's announcement named for the first time two other Canadian citizens among the accused, identifying them as Marco Vinicio Puche Rodriguez and Claudio Franco Vetere. Both could face 12-year sentences.

Also named were more than a dozen Cubans — Tokmakjian Group employees, government officials and executives at state-run businesses in the tourism and nickel sectors.

Prosecutors are seeking the toughest prison sentence, 20 years, for Nelson Ricardo Labrada Fernandez, a former vice-minister of the now-defunct Sugar Ministry.

The other defendants face possible terms of 8 to 12 years.

The court was also asked to order more than $91 million in compensation for "economic damage they caused to various Cuban entities and the Tax Administration," to be paid for in part by money and assets seized during the investigation.

A number of foreigners from several companies were swept up in the 2011 crackdown. Another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was released earlier this year and returned home after serving 2 1/2 years of a nine-year sentence in Cuba.

The Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group did an estimated $80 million in business annually with Cuba, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment. It was the  exclusive Cuba distributor of Hyundai, among other brands, and a partner in two joint ventures replacing the motors of Soviet-era transportation equipment.

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