* Cubans say cases, investigation complicated
* Home countries fret over due process
* Potential witnesses barred from leaving island
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Oct 9 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
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
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 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
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,
"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
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
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