Cuba convicts 12 of corruption in nickel industry – by Laura Kane (Toronto Star – August 22, 2012)

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A Cuban court has convicted a dozen people of corruption in the nickel industry, including two employees of a Cuban-Canadian joint concern, state media announced Tuesday.

Accounting executive Alfredo Barallobre Rodriguez and deputy production director Orlando Carmenaty Olmo of Empresa Moa Nickel SA, a joint operation of Cuba and Toronto-based mining company Sherritt International Corp., were sentenced to six and five years, respectively. Company officials didn’t return requests for comment, and the nationality of the two men couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

High-ranking government officials and an executive at a state-run nickel company were also sentenced in the case, involving a contract for the expansion of the Pedro Soto Alba nickel and cobalt processing plant at the Moa mine. The convictions are the first in a wider crackdown on corruption that has already seen several foreigners, including two Canadians, detained.

Sarkis Yacoubian, president of Canadian trading firm Tri-Star Caribbean, and Cy Tokmakjian of Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group reportedly remain imprisoned nearly a year after their arrests. The Cuban arms of their firms have been shut down, despite no charges having been laid, or at least made public.

The crackdown is causing a chill among foreign investors, said Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

“Canadians are not rushing to invest in Cuba,” he said. “A lot of companies do not want to invest in countries where there is a significant level of corruption.”

Foreign companies must go into partnership with the Cuban government to do business, putting them at risk of working with corrupt officials, he said.

Suchlicki added foreign companies may be frightened off by the country’s lack of an independent judiciary. “The Cuban government throws you in jail and you’re stuck,” he said.

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