Cuba Is Open For Business That Might Land You in Jail
If word out of Havana is to believed — relayed aggressively in recent weeks by Cuban diplomats and trade emissaries to major investors in financial centers around the world — a new day of investment opportunities is dawning in the cash-strapped communist state.
The sales pitch is driven by a set of new laws passed last month by the Cuban National Assembly.
The legislation provides for steep tax cuts and tax exemptions. There are a range of new guarantees of investment security.
In short, Cuba is open for business and safe for foreign investors.
Reality is at stark odds with the platitudes of the Cuban trade officials and diplomats. One example, of many:
Since September 10, 2011 a Canadian citizen, Cy Tokmakjian, President and CEO of the Tokmakjian Group of Companies, has been detained by Cuban authorities.
He is one of dozens of Cuban and foreign business executives scooped by anti-corruption investigators of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior (a ministry modeled, in the early years of the Cuban Revolution, on the Soviet KGB and East German Stasi).
The Interior Ministry investigations are a direct product of President Raul Castro’s selective anti-corruption crusade. It is worth noting, that the only foreign “suspects” in the investigations are almost all European or Canadian business executives; none have come from Cuba’s like-minded communist or authoritarian regimes.
Cy has been held for more than two-and-a-half years and is still awaiting his day in court. He is 73 years old, in frail health and held in La Condesa, a crudely austere, walled prison for hardened criminals located in the middle of a sugar cane plantation.
His personal assets and those of the business (in excess of $90 million) have been seized by Cuban authorities. It seems no coincidence that Cuba ensured claims made against the Tokmakjian Group exceed the value of seized assets. There have been suggestions to company representatives that additional millions sent from Canada could result in a more “lenient” outcome.
Cy is a popular and respected corporate citizen in Canada and, until his incarceration in Cuba in 2011, had operated businesses there for more than 20 years.
He was recognized by the Cuban Government — indeed, by former President Fidel Castro — for his integrity and his contributions to Cuba’s economy through various joint ventures and closely-audited partnerships.
Throughout his detention, Cy has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
At the same time, Cy has been pressured by the Cuban investigators to sign a variety of “confessions.” His own Interior Ministry-assigned Cuban lawyers are also under great pressure to gain any possible admission of guilt.
He has been told, many times, that, if he drops International claims against Cuba or admits to minor “offenses,” he would have a lenient trial and be released immediately.
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