Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cuban corruption video warns of Canadian company's 'cancer'

Cuban corruption video warns of Canadian company's 'cancer'
Tight security at screenings of 'Metastasis'
By Marc Frank, Reuters February 22, 2012

Cuban President Raul Castro delivers a speech in this July 11, 2008,
file photo. Cuba has created videos portraying a Canadian businessman as
a cancer cell in a bid to fight bribery.

Cuban President Raul Castro delivers a speech in this July 11, 2008,
file photo. Cuba has created videos portraying a Canadian businessman as
a cancer cell in a bid to fight bribery.
Photograph by: Stringer , AFP/Getty Images

HAVANA — A Canadian company is at the centre of Cuban President Raul
Castro's corruption fight, as videos showing a Canadian businessman as a
cancer cell make the rounds of the communist-run island's state companies.

The videos shown to senior staff and party members are the latest
addition to an ongoing campaign to root out corrupt practices that have
landed a handful of foreign businessmen and hundreds of government
officials behind bars.

Security is tight at the screenings, where all personal belongings are
left at the door in hopes of keeping the footage off YouTube and Miami

One video traces a network of farmers, state distributors and officials
as they fleece the government out of millions of pesos through the sale
of fictitious onions and garlic.

Another video, called "Metastasis," follows a Canadian company's payoffs
"spreading like cancer" into high levels of government.

Castro established a comptroller general's office in 2008, with a seat
on the Council of State, even as Cuba began implementing market-oriented

The measure marked the start of the campaign to tamp down corruption and
reflected concern over graft that followed similar reforms in other
communist countries, foreign and local experts said.

Over the last few years, high-level corruption has been uncovered in one
sector of the economy after another, from the cigar and communications
industries, to food processing and civil aviation.


"Metastasis" opens with footage of Castro warning that corruption must
be kept at one's ankles and never be allowed to rise above one's nose.
It closes with Castro characterizing corruption as a threat to national
security, according to several sources familiar with the video.

Cy Tokmakjian, CEO of the Canadian Tokmakjian Group, who was arrested
last year, is portrayed as the original cancer cell.

Tokmakjian is fingered by former associate turned competitor, Sarkis
Yacoubian, the CEO of another Canadian firm closed in July 2011, and who
is also in custody.

Yacoubian confesses he passed packets of money to Cuban officials
visiting Canada when he worked for the Tokmakjian Group, the sources said.

Yacoubian says he continued passing around cash-stuffed-envelopes after
he founded Tri-Star Caribbean to compete with his former employer for
Cuba's automobile, motorized and heavy equipment market.

The two companies did an estimated $110 million in annual business with

The Cuban bagmen for both men explain in the video how they profited
from their business on and off the island - Tokmakjian's top aid,
Armando Martinez, states he owns a $500,000 home in Canada and has
$400,000 stashed in a Canadian bank, the sources said.

Martinez describes how he and his wife wined and dined former Deputy
Sugar Minister Nelson Labrada, sometimes with his wife and at other
times with his mistress, the latter trading up her apartment with $5,000
authorized by Tokmakjian after a request from Labrada.

Next up is a former deputy minister of basic industry, and Alberto
Panton Graham, the former director of the nickel industry. Both were
arrested in 2010.

The official says he was paid the equivalent of $200 to $300 a month by
Tokmakjian to keep him informed of business opportunities, and Panton
confesses that he took kickbacks from both Canadian companies, the
sources said.

"I think the campaign has had some positive results, but as long as
officials and buyers are paid the equivalent of $20 per month it won't
do away with the problem," said the Cuban representative of a Spanish
company that does a brisk export business with the island.

"On the one hand, I received a number of open bids by email last week
when in the past almost all bids were done in person," he said, asking
his name not be used.

"On the other hand, three state buyers came to my office last week and
all of them wanted money."

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