Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cuba frees two British businessmen from jail after secret 'corruption' trial

Cuba frees two British businessmen from jail after secret 'corruption' trial
Two British businessmen who spent two years in jail on corruption
charges in Cuba have been released after a secret trial.
By Colin Freeman6:00PM BST 21 Jun 2013Comment

Stephen Purvis and his Lebanese-born colleague Amado Fakhre were held
after their company, Coral Capital Group, fell foul of a massive
anti-graft drive launched by President Raul Castro. Until then, their
investment firm had been playing a leading role in developing the
Caribbean island's tourist economy by financing luxury hotels and golf
During their time in custody they were questioned at the Villa Marista,
a notorious counter-intelligence headquarters, and then taken to a wing
specially set aside for foreigners at La Condesa prison in Havana.
The British embassy, which has been providing both men with consular
help, said that Mr Purvis was released on Monday and Mr Fakhre on
Wednesday. Their trial took place behind closed doors last month.
No details of the charges against them have been released, although it
is understood that half a dozen Cubans were also involved in the case.
The detention of the two Britons has alarmed other foreign
businesspeople working in Cuba, which is relying on foreign know-how to
help its moribund communist economy adapt to market reforms.
An architect by training, 52-year-old Mr Purvis lived with his family in
Cuba and was a well-known figure on the island, serving as the board
member of an international school in Havana and as the producer of a
local dance show. As Coral's chief operating officer, he was also the
public face of the firm's plans to build an ambitious 1,200 home golf
resort on prime beachland on the edge of the capital at Bellomonte.
The project, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, symbolised the
U-turn that Cuba has made as it tries to modernise economically. Shortly
after Raul's brother Fidel took power in 1959, he famously shut all the
golf courses, claiming it was a "bourgeois" hobby that had no place in a
communist revolutionary state.
Coral also spent $28 million modernising the Saratoga hotel, a landmark
in Havana's historic city centre, and was also involved a raft of other
businesses in Cuba, including ports, bottle manufacturing, film
production and a Land Rover concession.
In an interview in 2011, Mr Purvis had said he felt confident doing
business in Cuba, claiming to be well aware of the pitfalls that might
put off other investors.
"We have invested time here; we've moved our families here," he said.
"We understand the culture. Cubans want to do business with people they
However, all foreign investors in Cuba are required to have local
partners by law, and in the last two years, dozens of senior Cuban
managers, incuding vice-ministers and close associates of the Castro
brothers, have been arrested on suspicion of taking kickbacks.
While few details of the Coral case have been made public, it is
understood that they may have focused on the firm's sidelines in trade
finance and import ventures rather than its real estate portfolio.
Mr Purvis was arrested in March last year, as he was about to take his
children to school, while Mr Fakhre, who was Coral's executive director,
was held in October 2011, following a raid by Cuban police on Coral's
offices in Havana, which were then closed.
According to one report on the Reuters news agency, the two men were
both found guilty of minor charges and released for time served. Mr
Purvis was apparently told that he was free to leave the country, while
Mr Fakhre's status was unclear. Neither could be reached for comment,
nor was anyone available at Coral's office in London.

Source: "Cuba frees two British businessmen from jail after secret
'corruption' trial - Telegraph" -

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