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    Company defends Canadian exec in Cuba graft case

    Posted on Wednesday, 07.02.14

    Company defends Canadian exec in Cuba graft case
    BY PETER ORSI
    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    HAVANA — The company and family of a Canadian business executive
    awaiting a court ruling in Cuba defended him against accusations of
    graft, arguing that what were in fact “legitimate commercial
    transactions” were wrongly characterized as corrupt at trial.

    A two-page statement sent to The Associated Press by the Tokmakjian
    Group also complained that company president Cy Tokmakjian’s trial,
    which ended June 21, was unfairly stacked against him.

    It said he was held without charge for two years while the results of
    the investigation were kept secret, and then given just two months to
    present a defense. Meanwhile 14 of 18 proposed defense witnesses,
    including international tax experts, were rejected by the court without
    explanation.

    “We are concerned that the outcome of the trial is predetermined given
    the reluctance by the Cuban authorities to rectify gross procedural
    mistakes,” the statement said.

    Prosecutors are seeking 15 years for Tokmakjian and 8 to 20 for more
    than a dozen others named as defendants. They include two more Canadians
    as well as Cuban employees of the company, government officials and
    workers at state-run businesses.

    On Monday, Communist Party newspaper Granma said Tokmakjian was accused
    of corruption to obtain benefits in contract negotiations, unauthorized
    financial transactions, illegally taking large amounts of money out of
    the country, falsifying documents to avoid taxes and payroll
    irregularities. A ruling is expected soon.

    Tokmakjian is among a number of foreigners and dozens of Cubans arrested
    in 2011 as part of a high-profile crackdown on graft that targeted
    multiple businesses operating in the country.

    Another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was sentenced
    to nine years in 2013 but freed earlier this year and allowed to return
    home.

    Saro Khatchadourian, a spokesman for Canada’s Minister of State for
    Foreign Affairs and Consular, said Ottawa is monitoring its citizens’
    legal cases in Cuba and providing them with consular services, but
    declined to comment further. Canada’s ambassador to Havana attended
    Tokmakjian’s trial.

    Cuban officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment
    Wednesday.

    The statement from the Tokmakjian Group, an international transportation
    company based in Concord, Ontario, questioned why an individual was
    being held liable for a corporate tax issue, and said any claims were
    purely commercial and should have been handled in arbitration rather
    than a criminal court.

    “A simple and objective reading of recent court decisions will lead to
    the conclusion that what is shown as ‘corruption’ is internationally
    accepted business practices,” it said. “Commercial activities such as
    discounting bills of exchange or providing supplier credit appear as
    ‘evidences of corruption.’ Earning profits out of a commercial activity
    is considered a ‘crime against (the) economic interests of Cuba.’”

    Tokmakjian’s trial came to a close within days of a new law taking
    effect that Cuba hopes will lure much-needed foreign investment.
    Officials say it safeguards commercial and personal property rights.

    Though Cuban authorities made no details publicly available while the
    trial was ongoing, its outcome is sure to be scrutinized by the foreign
    business community and likely by potential investors.

    “Although no one will (dispute) the legitimacy of Cuba to combat
    corruption,” the Tokmakjian Group statement said, “this fight against
    corruption has been used as an excuse to deprive companies operating in
    Cuba of their rights and assets with no compensation.”