Cuba prosecutes Canadian after he denounced corruption - company

HAVANA, July 7 Mon Jul 7, 2014 1:57pm EDT

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HAVANA, July 7 (Reuters) - Cuba has prosecuted and is likely to send Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian to prison after he denounced corruption in the Havana government's awarding of contracts, his company said on Monday.

"Cy Tokmakjian spoke out against corruption as it was clear the company was losing contracts to others for unexplained reasons. It's possible this outspokenness led to what is now happening," Lee Hacker, vice president of finance for the company, said in a statement on Monday.

Tokmakjian and two other Canadian citizens from his transportation company, the Tokmakjian Group, which has done business in Cuba for 22 years, stood trial on charges of bribery and other economic crimes in June.

A verdict and sentencing in the closely watched case are expected soon.

Cuban prosecutors are seeking a 15-year prison term for Tokmakjian and 12 years each for his managers, fellow Canadians Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche. All three have maintained their innocence, and the company has said it fears the outcome was predetermined.

"We are prepared and expecting the typical outcome from the court, which must follow directions from above," Hacker said.

Fourteen Cubans including a former deputy minister of the Sugar Ministry have also been accused in the case of charges that include bribery, tax evasion, falsifying bank documents. They face sentences of 8 to 20 years if convicted.

Tokmakjian was arrested in 2011 and held for nearly 2-1/2 years before being charged after his company was caught up in a crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro. The trial took place June 9 to 21.

The Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group did an estimated $80 million in business annually with Cuba, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment. It was the exclusive Cuba distributor of Hyundai, among other brands, and a partner in two joint ventures replacing the motors of Soviet-era transportation equipment.

The company said Cuba was continuing a pattern of demonizing successful foreign investors that the communist government wants to get rid of, citing the case of British businessman Stephen Purvis, who was convicted of financial crimes and released in 2012 after being held for 15 months.

"Cy was outspoken and gave his opinion on matters to high-ranking Cuban officials. Some of his opinions may have been controversial, others are now part of the economic reforms that are taking place," Hacker said.

Tokmakjian, 74, should have been praised by the Cuban government for running a company that "operated as angels at all times," the statement said.

Cuba has been touting a new foreign investment law that took effect recently, saying it was crucial for attracting the foreign investment needed for development.

The main feature of the law is to lower taxes. But many foreign companies have said they are more interested in the general business climate, transparency and the rule of law, especially in light of this case. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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