Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    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.