POLITICS

Peter Kent: Cy Tokmakjian's 15-Year Prison Sentence In Cuba 'Outrageous"

09/28/2014 02:42 EDT | Updated 11/28/2014 05:59 EST
CP
A Canadian businessman sentenced in Cuba to 15 years in prison on corruption-related charges should be sent back home, said a Toronto-area MP who called the conviction a "travesty of justice."

Cy Tokmakjian, who owns of the Ontario-based automotive company Tokmakjian Group, could be expelled from the Caribbean country or transferred to a Canadian facility instead of serving out his sentence there, Peter Kent said Sunday.

"It's obvious an appeal is a waste of time given the Cuban justice system," Kent said.

But "it's not over yet," he stressed.

The company said its lawyers were notified Friday that Tokmakjian, 74, was convicted and sentenced on a variety of charges that Cuban officials call part of a widespread campaign against graft.

He was held for more than two years before being tried in June.

Kent, whose Thornhill riding includes the company's headquarters, said the sentence is "outrageous," but not entirely unexpected.

Tokmakjian's family "hasn't given up hope" but worries because he is in poor health, said the MP, who has known them for years.

"We want to get him home as soon as possible," he said.

Kent said the case is "a very strong reminder that international investors should beware" when dealing with Cuba.

Foreign Affairs says consular services are being provided and officials are in contact with authorities in Havana.

The company issued a statement earlier this year saying Tokmakjian did nothing wrong and suggested he didn't get a fair trial.

The company's Cuban offices were raided in 2011 as Cuba launched an anti-graft drive that has swept up foreign business executives from at least five nations as well as government officials and dozens of Cuban employees at key state-run companies.

Foreign business people have long considered payoffs ranging from a free meal to cash deposits in overseas accounts to be an unavoidable cost of doing business in Cuba. President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is one of the country's most important challenges.

More than 150 foreign business people and dozens of small South American and European companies have been kicked out of the country under the anti-graft drive. Several dozen defendants have ended up in jail, including a few foreigners and high government officials accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes.

Such cases, and questions about their fairness, have chilled many current and potential investors in Cuba, which is trying to attract foreign capital to jumpstart the stagnant economy.

Cuba's judicial system is known for speedy proceedings behind closed doors with little or no media access. Cuban officials have said little about the Tokmakjian case beyond announcing last year that the Tokmakjian Group's operating license had been rescinded due to unspecified actions.

Tokmakjian managers Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche got 12- and 8-year sentences, respectively, company vice-president Lee Hacker told The Associated Press.

The company's website lists its head office in Concord, Ont.

The website says it provides both transportation services and engine repairs.

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