Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cuba investigates, shuts down Canadian firms

Posted on Tuesday, 09.20.11
Cuba corruption

Cuba investigates, shuts down Canadian firms

Two Canadian companies that sold vehicles and other equipment to Cuban
government ministries and state enterprises were shut down.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Cuban authorities are investigating two Canadian companies in corruption
scandals involving a long string of government ministries, senior
officials and state-owned enterprises, according to published reports.

The companies were identified as the Ontario-based Tomakjian Group,
considered to be one of the biggest foreign companies doing business in
the communist-ruled island, and Tri-Star Caribbean of Nova Scotia.

Several officials and employees of both companies and their government
contacts have been detained or are under questioning on the allegations
of corruption, according to the news media and Internet reports.

The two companies were the latest targets of a Cuban leader Raúl
Castro's crackdown on corruption that already has hit the civil
aviation, nickel and cigar industries and led to the arrest or dismissal
of top government officials.

Sill unraveling is a case involving the state communications monopoly,
Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), which was under the
control of Ramiro Valdes, vice president of the ruling Council of State,
from 2006 until this January.

Authorities last week ordered the shutdown of the Havana offices of
Tomakjian, which does an estimated $80 million a year in business with
the government and state enterprises, the Reuters news agency reported.

Tomakjian distributes Hyundai and Isuzu vehicles in Cuba, most of them
for the construction, transportation and mining industries, and has two
truck engine maintenance facilities on the island.

Owner Vahe "Cy" Tomakjian, a 70-year-old Canadian born in Syria of
Armenian descent, started doing business with Cuba in 1988 and has
boasted of good profits despite some delays in payments.

"If the Cubans say they're gonna pay, they delay, but eventually they
pay," he told the CubaNews newsletter in 2002. "I trust these people,
and by nature they're very good. They have high ethics."

Reuters quoted an unidentified western businessman in Havana as saying
Tomakjian had been detained by Cuban authorities.

El Nuevo Herald messages left with his office in Ontario and the
Tri-Star headquarters in Nova Scotia were not returned, and the Cuban
news media has made no mention of either case.

Tri-Star was shut down and its owner Sarkis Yacoubian was detained for
questioning in July, according to another Reuters report. Since then, up
to 60 company employees and state officials have been questioned or jailed.

Tri-Star reportedly does an estimated $30 million a year in business
with government ministries and state enterprises in telecommunications,
transportation and construction and the nickel and oil industries.

Yacoubian, an Armenian-born Canadian, has been well known on the island
since his arrival in 1996, for his humanitarian donations to the
government and what Reuters described as "lavish year-end parties for
prominent local and foreign businessmen."

The Miami-based blog Café Fuerte, which was the first to report the
Tri-Star case, wrote in August that before the scandal Yacoubian had
"maximum trust" within the Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic

But a routine search of his yacht in Cuba turned up "a sophisticated
system of listening and localization technology installed by foreign
[intelligence] services," the blog added.

The ensuing investigation led Cuban authorities to ETECSA, according to
the blog, which Valdes controlled as Minister of Communications and
Information Technology. He was promoted in January to "superminister" in
charge of the oil, mining, construction and communications industries.

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