Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cuba sentences Canadian businessman to nine years in prison

Posted on Wednesday, 06.19.13

Cuba sentences Canadian businessman to nine years in prison

For almost two years as he sat in a Havana prison awaiting trial on
corruption charges, Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian held out hope
that by collaborating with the Cuban authorities and fingering a wide
web of foreign and domestic corporate intrigue, he would get some leniency.

"They are going to bring down my sentence, provided that I go along with
them," he had told the Star in a series of exclusive jailhouse phone

But that didn't happen.

Three weeks after he was put on trial late last month, Yacoubian finally
got word he has been sentenced to nine years in prison.

"We were shocked," said Krikor Yacoubian, Sarkis' brother in Toronto.
"We were anticipating less with the collaboration, but they did not
budge much."

Krikor says his jailed brother was stunned when he first heard the news
from his Cuban lawyer.

"He was silent for awhile, for a good minute," he said. "Not tearful or
angry. He said, 'OK let's go to the next step.'"

That next step, the family says, will be a protracted battle to try to
get the 53-year-old Yacoubian transferred to Canada to serve out his

"To my knowledge, it is the first time that any Canadian businessman has
been sentenced for corruption," said John Kirk, a professor at Dalhousie
University's Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, who has
written several books on Cuba.

"Clearly this is intended to send a message to Cubans and foreign
investors alike," he said. "Several deputy ministers in Cuba and dozens
of bureaucrats have also received heavy sentences."

Yacoubian's cousin and business associate, Krikor Bayassalian, was
sentenced to four years as a co-defendant, the family says.

The details of the key Canadian connection to Cuba's widening corruption
scandals were revealed last month in a joint investigation by the
Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald.

Arrested in July 2011 and detained without charges, Yacoubian — a McGill
MBA graduate who operated a $30 million transport and trading company
called Tri-Star Caribbean — was formally accused in April of bribery,
tax evasion and "activities damaging to the economy."

Yacoubian disputed many of the specifics of the case but he said he
decided to cooperate with the Cubans, exposing what he called the "black
forces" of corruption and naming more than a dozen foreign companies and

"I told everything and I told how these schemes were done," he told the
Star. "It was just eating me alive. Maybe in my conscience I wanted my
company to be brought down so that I could tell once for all things that
are going on."

In September 2011, Cuban authorities arrested a second GTA man —
73-year-old Cy Tokmakjian, whose $80 million Tokmakjian Group company is
one of the largest foreign operations in Cuba. His family told the Star
he has still not been charged.

Both men, former business associates turned bitter rivals, remain in La
Condesa, a prison on the outskirts of Havana reserved for foreigners and
disgraced government officials.

Krikor Yacoubian says the family has decided not to appeal his brother's
sentence but to immediately start the lengthy legal and diplomatic
maneuvers to get Sarkis transferred to Canada under a prisoner transfer
treaty Canada signed with Cuba in 1999.

"I don't want my brother to rot in Cuba," Krikor Yacoubian said.

Source: "Cuba sentences Canadian businessman to nine years in prison -
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