Cuban authorities are investigating two Canadian companies in corruption scandals involving a long string of government ministries, senior officials and state-owned enterprises, according to published reports.
The companies were identified as the Ontario-based Tomakjian Group, considered to be one of the biggest foreign companies doing business in the communist-ruled island, and Tri-Star Caribbean of Nova Scotia.
Several officials and employees of both companies and their government contacts have been detained or are under questioning on the allegations of corruption, according to the news media and Internet reports.
The two companies were the latest targets of a Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s crackdown on corruption that already has hit the civil aviation, nickel and cigar industries and led to the arrest or dismissal of top government officials.
Sill unraveling is a case involving the state communications monopoly, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), which was under the control of Ramiro Valdes, vice president of the ruling Council of State, from 2006 until this January.
Authorities last week ordered the shutdown of the Havana offices of Tomakjian, which does an estimated $80 million a year in business with the government and state enterprises, the Reuters news agency reported.
Tomakjian distributes Hyundai and Isuzu vehicles in Cuba, most of them for the construction, transportation and mining industries, and has two truck engine maintenance facilities on the island.
Owner Vahe “Cy” Tomakjian, a 70-year-old Canadian born in Syria of Armenian descent, started doing business with Cuba in 1988 and has boasted of good profits despite some delays in payments.
“If the Cubans say they’re gonna pay, they delay, but eventually they pay,” he told the CubaNews newsletter in 2002. “I trust these people, and by nature they’re very good. They have high ethics.”
Reuters quoted an unidentified western businessman in Havana as saying Tomakjian had been detained by Cuban authorities.
El Nuevo Herald messages left with his office in Ontario and the Tri-Star headquarters in Nova Scotia were not returned, and the Cuban news media has made no mention of either case.
Tri-Star was shut down and its owner Sarkis Yacoubian was detained for questioning in July, according to another Reuters report. Since then, up to 60 company employees and state officials have been questioned or jailed.
Tri-Star reportedly does an estimated $30 million a year in business with government ministries and state enterprises in telecommunications, transportation and construction and the nickel and oil industries.
Yacoubian, an Armenian-born Canadian, has been well known on the island since his arrival in 1996, for his humanitarian donations to the government and what Reuters described as “lavish year-end parties for prominent local and foreign businessmen.”
The Miami-based blog Café Fuerte, which was the first to report the Tri-Star case, wrote in August that before the scandal Yacoubian had “maximum trust” within the Interior Ministry, in charge of domestic security.
But a routine search of his yacht in Cuba turned up “a sophisticated system of listening and localization technology installed by foreign [intelligence] services,” the blog added.
The ensuing investigation led Cuban authorities to ETECSA, according to the blog, which Valdes controlled as Minister of Communications and Information Technology. He was promoted in January to “superminister” in charge of the oil, mining, construction and communications industries.