Posted on Tuesday, 10.08.13
Panama businessman jailed in Cuba
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
An elderly Panamanian businessman has been jailed in Cuba for more than
a year in what is variously described as a case of corruption or Havana
attempts to renege on its debts or switch more of its trade to
businessmen from politically sympathetic countries.
Nessin Abadi, in his early 70s and owner of the large Audiofoto chain of
electronics stores, was arrested around August of last year but has not
been tried or even charged, according to friends and business contacts
in Panama City.
Relatives have kept the case out of the news media because of fears that
the Cuban government will retaliate against him, the sources said. The
family declined an El Nuevo Herald request for an interview or
information on the case.
But the public records of Panama’s Foreign Ministry show Deputy Foreign
Minister Vladimir Franco spent $1,551.42 on a trip to Havana Oct. 7-8 to
talk to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez about “the Nessin Abadi
case.” The ministry did not respond to El Nuevo Herald calls for comment
for this story.
Abadi, part of a large family of Syrian Jews who migrated to Panama in
the early 1900s, had been selling Asian-made electronic, household and
other goods and equipment to the Cuban government for many years out of
Panama’s duty-free Colon Free Zone (CFZ).
He has been detained in several homes in Havana run by the Interior
Ministry and one jail, and interrogated almost daily by ministry
investigators but has not been charged, according to his friends and
Cuban officials told relatives during the few contacts they have been
allowed that he is suspected of corruption, added the sources, who said
they were outraged by Abadi’s jailing but asked to remain anonymous
because of the family’s wishes.
The government of Raúl Castro jailed at least a dozen foreign
businessmen in Havana in 2011 and 2012 in what he painted as a crackdown
on corruption so prevalent on the island that it was endangering the
future of the communist government.
CFZ businessmen said that Abadi has a reputation for total honesty and
that they suspected Cuba arrested him to avoid paying its debt to him —
and to send a message to its other debtors in Panama to await any late
payments patiently and keep their mouths shut.
Cuba’s total debt to CFZ business owners is not known because there is
no central clearing system, but it is considered to be significant
because “it is increasingly becoming more and more difficult to collect
from Cuba,” said one Panama businessman.
For Cuba to accuse foreign businessmen of corruption is “like calling
the kettle black,” he added. “What happened is that there is no law in
Cuba. These international investors served their useful purpose and now
they are being burned by the government.”
A similar argument was made last month by Stephen Purvis, a British
businessman arrested in Havana in 2011, jailed for 15 months, tried this
June and sentenced essentially to time served. He is now back in England.
Although reporters in Havana were told that Purvis was under
investigation for corruption, he wrote in a letter to the British
magazine The Economist last month that he was verbally accused of
revealing state secrets and other violations, but never corruption.
Instead, he wrote, he was convicted of “various supposed breaches of
financial regulations,” charges that could easily be filed against any
of the several other foreign businessmen he met in jails in Havana.
Few of those cases “have been reported in the press and there are many
more in the system than is widely known,” Purvis wrote. “As they are all
still either waiting for charges, trial or sentencing they will
certainly not be talking to the press.”
Purvis also appeared to indicate that Cuba targeted certain businessmen
in order to make room for deals with businessmen from other countries
that are more politically in tune with Havana and may not push so hard
for their debts to be paid.
Purvis wrote to The Economist that the jailed businessmen are from
several countries, “although representatives from Brazil, Venezuela and
China were conspicuous by their absence.”
Purvis could not be contacted directly for this story.
“The reasons for actively and aggressively pursuing foreign business are
far more complicated” than corruption, he argued. “Why for example is
the representative of [the Swedish phone company] Ericsson in jail for
exactly the same activities as their Chinese competitor who is not?”
“Until the law relating to foreign investment and commerce is revised
and the security service changes its modus operandi for enforcing these
laws, Cuba will remain extremely risky for .?.?. foreign business,” he
wrote. “Foreign executives should be under no illusion about the great
personal risks they run if they choose to do business there.”
Purvis, who was chief of operations of Coral Capital, a British firm
that invested in hotels and automobile imports and planned a golf
resort, was freed along with fellow British citizen Amado Fakhre, who
was the company’s executive director.
Canadian Sarkis Yacoubian was sentenced to nine years in a prison in
June even though he cooperated with authorities in detailing a
corruption scheme that also brought down several government officials.
His cousin and business partner, Krikor Bayassalian, a Lebanese citizen,
was sentenced to four years in prison.
Still awaiting trial is another Canadian, Cy Tokmakjian, who like
Yacoubian sold transportation and other equipment to the Cuban
government. He was arrested in 2011.
Abadi is not the first Panamanian businessman to run afoul in Cuba.
Alejandro Abood, then 50, was arrested in Havana in 2001 in what an El
Nuevo Herald report at the time described as a roundup of Cubans and
foreigners suspected of spying activities close to the offices of
then-ruler Fidel Castro.
As in the Abadi case, his relatives refused to speak to the media in
hopes of winning good treatment in Havana.
Other sources told the newspaper Abood was arrested because he allegedly
tried to collect on Cuba’s debt by bribing officials who could influence
Abood was in fact the key seller of imported technology to SERVICEX,
headed by Rodolfo Fernández, AKA Conaca, personal buyer of imported
goods for Fidel and brother Raúl Castro, said Delfín Fernandez, his
nephew and now a Miami resident.
Abood was freed five years ago, apparently because of ill health and is
now recovered and living in Panama. But he remains on the U.S. Treasury
Department’s list of persons who have violated economic sanctions on
Cuba and other countries.
Source: “Panama businessman jailed in Cuba – Americas – MiamiHerald.com”