Sunday, June 22, 2014

Canadian fears foregone verdict in Cuban court

Canadian fears foregone verdict in Cuban court
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jun. 13 2014, 7:24 PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Jun. 13 2014, 7:27 PM EDT

More than 2 1/2 years after his arrest in a wide-ranging corruption
investigation, a Canadian business executive accused of bribery and tax
evasion is pleading his case before a Cuban court – but his family fears
the outcome has been predetermined.

Cy Tokmakjian, 74, appeared before a Cuban court on Monday for the
beginning of a trial that is expected to last two weeks. His charges
relate to bribery, contractual issues, and commercial crimes against the
Cuban economy and he is being tried alongside at least 16 other
individuals who either worked for or had dealings with his company's
operations in Cuba.

Originally from Armenia, Mr. Tokmakjian founded a transportation company
in Canada in the early 1970s and later expanded the firm's operations to
Cuba, Barbados and several other countries. He was arrested in
September, 2011, and held in a Cuban jail for nearly 2 1/2 years before
any charges were laid.

Lee Hacker, a spokesman for Mr. Tokmakjian's family and vice-president
of finance for the Tokmakjian Group, said Mr. Tokmakjian maintained high
ethical standards in his work and did not break Cuban laws.

"The allegations and charges made against the Tokmakjian Group by Cuban
authorities are completely baseless and the defence will show that
clearly," Mr. Hacker said in a written statement that was provided to
The Globe and Mail. "However, because of serious concerns with the lack
of due process, transparency and independence in the Cuban system, we
fear that the outcome has already been predetermined."

A statement outlining Mr. Tokmakjian's defence, obtained by The Globe,
says the businessman invited Cuban officials for meals at his home and
gave Christmas and New Year's gifts to a range of recipients but made no
attempt to obtain any favours in return.

Earlier this year, the Tokmakjian Group filed a claim against the Cuban
government with the Ontario Superior Court. A statement of claim alleges
that the company's assets were improperly seized and that the Cuban
government interfered with Tokmakjian Group's commercial relations with
its customers.

The trial comes one year after another Canadian businessman, Sarkis
Yacoubian, was sentenced to nine years in prison on corruption-related
charges after he reportedly co-operated with Cuban authorities in their
investigation. Mr. Yacoubian was expelled from Cuba in February and has
since returned to Canada. He did not have to serve the remainder of his
sentence when he returned to Canada because Cuban authorities did not
arrange a transfer.

The 2011 arrests of Mr. Yacoubian and other business executives and
their trials came as a surprise to foreign investors and raised
questions about the security of their assets in Cuba. Experts say the
arrests, combined with attempts to increase the Cuban government's
control of some foreign businesses, have clouded the country's business
environment at a time when the government is trying to attract more
capital to the communist economy.

Conservative MP Peter Kent has followed Mr. Tokmakjian's case and
visited him in prison last fall. He said he is troubled by reports the
Cuban court may not review all the evidence Mr. Tokmakjian's lawyers had
asked to present.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and
Development would not say whether it is assisting Mr. Tokmakjian, citing
privacy concerns. "Consular services are being provided to the Canadian
citizen who is detained in Cuba," Beatrice Fenelon wrote in an e-mail
when asked about Mr. Tokmakjian's case. "Canadian consular officials in
Havana are engaging local authorities and continue to monitor the case

Officials at the Cuban embassy in Ottawa could not be reached to comment
on the matter.

Follow Kim Mackrael on Twitter: @kimmackrael

Source: Canadian fears foregone verdict in Cuban court - The Globe and
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