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Cuba silent on Canadian's corruption trial

Friday - 5/24/2013, 12:28pm  ET

Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian goes to court for his corruption trial in Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 24, 2013. The trial of Yacoubian, who was president of import company Tri-Star Caribbean which was shuttered in July 2011, is under way nearly two years after he was detained. President Raul Castro has repeatedly spoken of a need to root out entrenched corruption on this Communist-run island, and his anti-graft drive 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. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA (AP) -- Official silence surrounded the case of a Canadian businessman targeted by a corruption probe in Cuba on Friday, as the initial trial of several foreigners suspected of graft entered its second day.

Sarkis Yacoubian, 53, who partnered with the Cuban government on multiple ventures, reportedly has been charged with bribery, tax evasion and "activities damaging to the economy." He faces up to 12 years if found guilty.

Yacoubian was seen entering a special courthouse on Friday, escorted by three men who appeared to be plainclothes security.

Cuba's judicial system is known for its speedy proceedings behind closed doors with little or no media access and the government has not commented on Yacoubian's case, even to acknowledge that a trial has begun.

Canada's ambassador to Havana has been observing the proceedings, but Ottawa has also kept mum except to acknowledge that it is providing consular services to two of its citizens detained in Cuba.

"Canadian consular officials in Havana are in regular contact with local authorities and are monitoring the situation closely," said Emma Welford, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. "To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on these cases cannot be released."

Yacoubian has been under detention since July 2011, when his import and transportation company, Tri-Star Caribbean, was shuttered by authorities.

Two months later, authorities raided another Canadian-run company, the Tokmakjian Group. Its president, Cy Tokmakjian, is also expected to go on trial soon, as are two British citizens.

More foreigners involved in the companies under investigation have not been detained but have been unable to leave Cuba while the cases are still open.

President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is one of the country's most important challenges.

Dozens of Cuban government officials and state company executives have been imprisoned for graft, while more than 150 foreign businesspeople and scores of small foreign companies have been kicked out of the country.

Friday's court proceedings were held in the same refurbished mansion where U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross was convicted of crimes against the state for bringing sensitive communications equipment into the country and setting up clandestine Internet networks.

He is serving a 15-year sentence.


Associated Press journalists Fernando Gonzalez in Havana and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.


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