Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cuba silent on Canadian's corruption trial

Posted on Friday, 05.24.13

Cuba silent on Canadian's corruption trial
The Associated Press

HAVANA -- Official silence surrounded the case of a Canadian businessman
targeted by a corruption probe in Cuba on Friday, as the initial trial
of several foreigners suspected of graft entered its second day.

Sarkis Yacoubian, 53, who partnered with the Cuban government on
multiple ventures, reportedly has been charged with bribery, tax evasion
and "activities damaging to the economy." He faces up to 12 years if
found guilty.

Yacoubian was seen entering a special courthouse on Friday, escorted by
three men who appeared to be plainclothes security.

Cuba's judicial system is known for its speedy proceedings behind closed
doors with little or no media access and the government has not
commented on Yacoubian's case, even to acknowledge that a trial has begun.

Canada's ambassador to Havana has been observing the proceedings, but
Ottawa has also kept mum except to acknowledge that it is providing
consular services to two of its citizens detained in Cuba.

"Canadian consular officials in Havana are in regular contact with local
authorities and are monitoring the situation closely," said Emma
Welford, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. "To
protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on
these cases cannot be released."

Yacoubian has been under detention since July 2011, when his import and
transportation company, Tri-Star Caribbean, was shuttered by authorities.

Two months later, authorities raided another Canadian-run company, the
Tokmakjian Group. Its president, Cy Tokmakjian, is also expected to go
on trial soon, as are two British citizens.

More foreigners involved in the companies under investigation have not
been detained but have been unable to leave Cuba while the cases are
still open.

President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is
one of the country's most important challenges.

Dozens of Cuban government officials and state company executives have
been imprisoned for graft, while more than 150 foreign businesspeople
and scores of small foreign companies have been kicked out of the country.

Friday's court proceedings were held in the same refurbished mansion
where U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross was convicted of crimes
against the state for bringing sensitive communications equipment into
the country and setting up clandestine Internet networks.

He is serving a 15-year sentence.


Associated Press journalists Fernando Gonzalez in Havana and Rob Gillies
in Toronto contributed to this report.

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