HAVANA (Reuters) – A Cuban court has sentenced Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian to 15 years in prison for bribery and other economic charges, his company, the Tokmakjian Group, said on Saturday in a chilling development for potential foreign investors.
Two aides received sentences of 12 and eight years and Cuba seized about $100 million worth of the company’s assets, the Ontario-based transportation firm said in a statement.
The Tokmakjian Group, which did an estimated $80 million in business annually with Cuba, called the sentences “absurd” and the result of a “show trial”.
Fourteen Cubans were also charged. The result of their cases was unknown. Cuba has yet to comment on the verdict or sentencing.
“The deception taking place in Cuba is beyond imagination,” the company statement said.
The Tokmakjian Group was one of the more successful foreign companies in Cuba, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment, until suddenly it was caught up in an investigation of Cuba’s international trading sector.
It was part of a crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro.
The case also strained Cuba’s relationship with Canada.
Western diplomats have called into question the charges, saying the evidence was weak, and said it would dissuade foreign investors at a time Cuba is actively seeking partners from abroad to do business on the communist-ruled island.
Lead defendant Cy Tokmakjian, 74, the company’s founder and president, had been held for two-and-a-half-years before being charged.
Fellow Canadians Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche were sentenced to 12 and eight years each, respectively, said Lee Hacker, the company’s vice president for finance and spokesman.
All three vehemently maintained their innocence, as did the company, which had said previously it feared the outcome of the trial was predetermined.
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone go to Cuba to invest,” Hacker said.