Canadian company lays out defense case for its jailed CEO
By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA (Reuters) – Defense lawyers for a Canadian executive sentenced to
15 years prison in Cuba on bribery and other charges released a raft of
documents on Sunday seeking to bolster their case that Cy Tokmakjian was
denied a fair trial.
Tokmakjian’s transportation company said crucial evidence prepared by
the defense team was not accepted by the five-judge panel during the
two-week trial in June, and relevant witnesses including experts were
denied a chance to testify.
The defense documents, released to reporters by a public relations firm,
say many of the charges were legally inadmissible and Tokmakjian’s acts
did not constitute crimes. For example, Tokmakjian was convicted of
paying bribes but defense lawyer Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa said in one of
the documents that “gifts, meals and courtesies are presented negatively
and out of context” in the charges.
Tokmakjian was convicted by a Cuban court last month and sentenced on
charges of bribery, damaging the Cuban economy, illicit economic
activity, currency trafficking, fraud and tax evasion, and it ordered
the seizure of assets valued at $100 million.
Sixteen others including two Canadian employees of his company, the
Tokmakjian Group, were convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 6
to 20 years in a case that has strained Cuba’s relations with Canada, a
major trading partner, and could deter foreigners from investing with
the communist government.
Tokmakjian, 74 who was arrested three years ago, has denied wrongdoing.
Over 20 years, the privately-held Concord, Ontario-based Tokmakjian
Group became one of most successful foreign companies doing business in
Cuba, supplying vehicles, motors, parts and construction equipment.
The defense documents said that officials receiving gifts could not have
directed contracts to Tokmakjian on their own. Contracts worth more than
$1 million, for example, must receive approval from 13 separate levels
of bureaucracy, the defense said.
“A vice-minister cannot make these decisions single-handedly,” defense
lawyer de la Cruz Ochoa said.
This referred to one of the 14 convicted Cubans, former vice-minister of
the sugar ministry, Nelson Labrada, who was sentenced to 20 years for
taking bribes from Tokmakjian and directing millions of dollars worth of
contracts his way.
The court cited numerous gifts that Labrada received from Tokmakjian or
his companies including family vacations, a gambling trip to Niagara
Falls, bottles of liquor and a flat-screen TV.
A lawyer for Labrada, Carlos Manuel Perez Ricardo, told Reuters he
received gifts, as the court found in its verdict, but said they played
no role in directing state business to Tokmakjian.
The defense documents say Tokmakjian treated Labrada to weeklong
vacations to a beach resort only because his wife was a company
employee, and the families of all Tokmakjian employees enjoyed that benefit.
Cuba said Tokmakjian’s dealings with Cuban state companies caused $91
million in damage to the Cuban state. While such companies are closely
tied to the state, the defense used the letter of the law to argue that
such damage could not be possible. It cited law establishing that those
companies were independent of the state, meaning the state cannot claim
any damages done to one of those companies.
In addition, the tax evasion charge ignored a dual-taxation agreement
Cuba has with Barbados, the defense said. Tokmakjian operated through a
number of companies, including one called Tokmakjian International,
which is incorporated in Barbados. The taxes were duly paid in Barbados,
the defense said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta. Editing by David Adams and Frances Kerry)
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