Informacion economica sobre Cuba

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.


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

those involved.

"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.

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