Cubans convicted along with Canadian execs in corruption case

Jail terms of 8, 12, 15 years but company calls it 'show trial'

HAVANA (Reuters) — Fourteen Cubans, including two high-ranking officials, were convicted and sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to 20 years in a corruption case that also condemned three Canadian executives, the Canadian company said on Sunday.

The case has come under deep skepticism from Western diplomats who have considered the evidence weak and say it threatens to scare off foreign investors at a time when Cuba is actively seeking business partners from abroad. It has also strained Cuba's relationship with Canada.

All 17 suspects who went on trial were convicted in a case that brought a host of charges including bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and falsifying bank documents surrounding the Tokmakjian Group.

The Concord, Ont.-based company had been doing business in Cuba for more than 20 years, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment with annual sales of about $80 million a year.

The conviction of Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian, founder of the Tokmakjian Group, and two others was reported on Saturday. Tokmakjian, 74, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and has already served three since his arrest.

His company called the case a "show trial" and a "travesty of justice."

Cuba also seized about $100 million worth of the Tokmakjian Group's assets.

Fellow Tokmakjian executives Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche were sentenced to 12 and eight years each, respectively, said Lee Hacker, the company's spokesman and vice-president for finance.

Hacker also provided the sentences for the Cuban suspects, who included Nelson Labrada, the former deputy minister of the defunct Sugar Ministry, sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Ernesto Gomez, former director of the state nickel company, Ferroniquel Minera S.A., received a 12-year sentence.

The Tokmakjian Group and the Cubans were caught up in an investigation of Cuba's international trading sector as part of a crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro.

Cuba has been touting a new foreign investment law that took effect this year, part of an overt campaign to attract foreign direct investment that is crucially 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.

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