Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian is facing up to fifteen years for a number of business-related corruption charges in Cuba, from bribery to tax evasion to falsifying documents. In true Orwellian form, Tokmakjian has been detained without charges for two years and was only arrested after denouncing government corruption himself.
According to the Globe and Mail, multiple high-level employees of the company have been sentenced in the aftermath of a new “foreign investment law” that took effect Saturday, though their arrests were years ago. The company, eponymously named Tokmakjian, was shut down in September 2011. Cuba’s former deputy sugar minister has also been arrested and charged in the same case for bribery.
In addition to the 15-year sentence, prosecutors seek $91 million in fines from Tokmakjian, two other Canadian ex-employees of the company, and fourteen Cuban nationals.
Spanish newspaper ABC reports that, while the charges are new, the arrests follow allegations by Tokmakjian that the Cuban government had been involved in corrupt dealings with rival companies – charges eerily similar to the ones prosecutors allege against the businessman. Tokmajian protested that his company was being denied government contracts arbitrarily shortly before being arrested, a “frankness” that his attorneys say “is possible led to what is happening now.”
Tokmakjian had been working in Cuba for 22 years and grew to have so much power that it made $80 million annual in business in Cuba and was, before its closure, the sole legal distributor of Hyundai cars on the island.
Canadian politicians are warning that Tokmakjian’s case should keep businessmen away from the island. Member of Parliament Peter Kent, who represents Tokmakjian’s district, visited him in jail and returned pessimistic that the man would be able to return home. “The trial was, from almost any measure, extraordinarily unfair and rigged,” Kent said of the legal proceedings against the corporation so far. “I would suggest that before any international investor considers putting a penny into Cuba, they take a look at the way Cy and other businessmen have been treated.” Kent added that the prosecutions against corporations appeared to be exclusively against North Americans and Europeans: “There are no prosecutions being carried out against Venezuela or China… What appears to be the intent of this whole farce is they will seize these very valuable companies, lock up the legitimate owners and try and run the companies as their own.”