POLITICS

No appeal of Canadian's jail sentence in Cuba may open door to return: lawyer

10/05/2014 03:37 EDT | Updated 12/05/2014 05:59 EST
A lawyer for a Canadian businessman sentenced in Cuba to 15 years in prison says a decision will be made this week whether to appeal or let the verdict stand in hopes of speeding his return to Canada.

Cy Tokmakjian, who owns the Ontario-based automotive company Tokmakjian Group, was sentenced last month on corruption-related charges that his family has called completely false.

Company lawyer Hermenegildo Altozano says there is a Friday deadline on whether to seek an appeal with Cuba's Supreme Court.

But Altozano says an active appeal would put off Tokmakjian's possible return to Canada under a prisoner transfer treaty.

He says Tokmakjian's lawyers in Cuba are looking for assurances that he may be released to serve his sentence in Canada if no further legal action is taken.

Altozano says Canadian officials have been active on the case, and the family was told Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raised the matter with his Cuban counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago.

And he says MP Peter Kent, who represents Tokmakjian's riding of Vaughan, Ont., also went to Cuba to lobby for his release.

"If by not appealing we get assurances that he will be released then it is very likely that no appeal will occur," Altozano said in an interview Sunday.

The company's Cuban offices were raided in 2011 as the country 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. Tokmakjian, 74, was held for more than two years before being tried in June.

Altozano noted that the possible approval of a transfer may also be contingent on the company dropping claims with the International Chamber of Commerce and an Ontario court over the confiscation of its assets.

While he couldn't confirm whether talks were already taking place, he noted that such conversations may be occuring under the radar given the complexities of Cuba's legal system.

"The fact that we are not aware doesn't mean that they are not doing it."

Two other company officials — managers Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche — received 12- and eight-year sentences respectively, the firm has said.

Tokmakjian's son, Raffi, has expressed concerns about his father's health, saying he was injured in a fall from a bunk bed.