Foreign executives arrested in Cuba in 2011 await charges
Tue Oct 9, 2012 2:48pm EDT
* Cubans say cases, investigation complicated
* Home countries fret over due process
* Potential witnesses barred from leaving island
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Oct 9 (Reuters) – Executives of three foreign businesses shut in
2011 ostensibly for corrupt practices have been held by Cuban
authorities for a year or more and still have not been charged with a
crime, sources with knowledge of the cases said this week.
Their ongoing legal limbo has put a behind-the-scenes strain on Cuba's
relations with their home countries – Canada and Britain – where the
legal process protects suspects from lengthy incarceration without
charges, western diplomats told Reuters.
Police closed the Havana offices of the British investment and trading
firm Coral Capital Group Ltd last October and arrested chief executive
Amado Fakhre, a Lebanese-born British citizen.
A month earlier authorities shut down one of the most important Western
trading companies in Cuba, Canada-based Tokmakjian Group, after doing
the same in July 2011 to another Canadian trading firm, Tri-Star Caribbean.
Cuban authorities say the cases, which are part of a larger crackdown on
corruption on the communist island, are being handled within the letter
of Cuban law.
The local legal process does call for defendants to be informed of why
they were arrested and sets out time limits for charges to be filed, but
they can be waved indefinitely in "exceptional circumstances."
Cy Tokmakjian, head of the Tokmakjian Group, and Sarkis Yacoubian, head
of Tri-Star, were arrested and confined to comfortable safe houses when
their businesses were closed, but earlier this year both were
transferred to La Condesa, a prison for foreigners just outside Havana.
Coral Capital's Fakhre was recently transferred to a military hospital
when he fell ill after months in prison.
His company's chief operating officer, British citizen Stephen Purvis,
was arrested in April and is in the Villa Marista prison run by state
security, sources said.
A number of other foreigners and Cubans who worked for the companies
remain free, but cannot leave the island because they are considered
witnesses in the cases.
STILL UNDER INVESTIGATION
Asked at a Havana penal conference last week when charges might be filed
against the businessmen, Cuban Attorney General Dario Delgado told
Reuters the investigation had not concluded because of the complicated
nature of the alleged crimes.
"The cases are in the investigative stage and still have not been
presented to the court, but I can guarantee they are proceeding
according to Cuban law," he said.
"There isn't the slightest reason for concern. These cases, which
involve economic crimes, are very complicated. They do not involve, for
example, traffic violations or a murder," he said.
Cuban Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano told reporters at the same
conference that the length of investigations depended on the behavior of
"When there is fraud, tricks and violations … false documents, false
accounting … there is no transparency and the process becomes more
complicated because a case must be documented with evidence before going
to trial," she said.
Western diplomats acknowledged that the cases were being handled within
Cuban law, but said there was no due process by western standards.
Cuba's judicial system has been widely criticized because all branches
are controlled by the state and inevitably this leads to tension when
foreign nationals are arrested.
"It is not just that they haven't been charged. They can be questioned
without a lawyer present and that lawyer would work for the state
anyhow," one diplomat said.
Under Cuban law a defendant must be represented by a Cuban public
defender, though other lawyers can consult on the case, they said.
"There is regular, monthly counselor access and some contact with Cuban
defense lawyers, but we certainly would like to see the process proceed
more quickly and transparently," another diplomat said.
Soon after taking over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, President
Raul Castro established the comptroller general's office with a seat on
the ruling Council of State, even as Cuba began implementing
market-oriented economic reforms.
The measure marked the start of the campaign to weed out corruption and
reflected concern over graft that followed similar reforms in other
communist countries, foreign and local experts said.
Since then, high-level corruption has been uncovered in one sector of
the economy after another, from the cigar, nickel, and communications
industries, to food processing and civil aviation.