A Cuban court has sentenced three former vice ministers of basic industry and nine other state officials to up to 12 years in prison for a corruption scandal in the nickel industry, one of the island’s main hard currency earners.
The scandal involved corruption in the “negotiation, contracting and execution” of a project to expand the Pedro Soto Alba nickel plant in Moa, in the northeastern province of Holguín, according to the official Granma newspaper.
Granma’s report made no mention of former Basic Industry Minister Yadira Gárcia, a favorite of former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro fired in 2010 for what an official statement called “deficiencies” in her control of spending on ministry projects.
The expansion was to cost $387.8 million and add 4,000 tons of production capacity from 2005 to 2008, but it is not clear how much was completed. Canada-based Hatch Associates was hired to manage the project and according to some report first discovered the corruption.
Cuban nickel and cobalt exports totaled $2.33 billion in 2007, or about half its total exports. The country controls an estimated 6.4 percent of the global market for nickel, and owns a joint venture in the industry with Canada’s Sherritt International.
Raúl Castro has been cracking down on corruption since he succeeded brother Fidel in 2008, jailing dozens of government officials and several foreign investors in cases that are most often kept out of the public eye, unlike the nickel scandal.
Granma identified the three former vice ministers, who served during different periods from 1980 to 2010, as Alfredo Rafael Zayas López, Ricardo González Sánchez and Antonio Orizón de los Reyes Bermúdez. Zayas got 12 years, Gonzalez 10 and Orizón eight.
The First Criminal Court of Holguín Province, 465 miles east of Havana, also handed down a six-year sentence to Cristobal de la Caridad Saavedra Montero, former business director of Cubaniquel, the state enterprise that owns the Moa operations.
Five other public officials involved in the project were sentenced to six to eight years in prison for misuse of financial resources and “noncompliance with the duty of preserving the goods of economic entities.” Another two men and one woman received sentences of four to six years for misusing resources.
Granma reported the trial was held “recently” and that the defendants “enjoyed the guarantees established by the laws governing criminal process.” Their names and the charges against them had not been published previously.
The corruption had “noxious consequences on one of the strategic activities for the economy of the country,” the newspaper added, and the showed the “loss of ethical values” by the 12 Cubans convicted.
Unconfirmed reports of corruption at the Pedro Soto Alba plant began circulating last year, shortly after reports of another scandal at the Rene Ramos Latour plant, another nickel processing facility in Nicaro near Moa.
At that time, the reports pointed to the theft of trucks, truck motors and other parts delivered to the Moa and Nicaro enterprises, unusually high salaries for some managers and the massive adulteration of products in order to inflate the quantities produced.
The Ministry of Basic Industries was disbanded this spring and replaced with a Ministry of Energy and Mines, to supervise oil, electricity and mining, and a Ministry of Industries in charge of the steel, chemical and light industrial sectors.
“These decisions are designed to resolve the problems identified in each one of these (areas) … while at the same time advancing in the separation of state and enterprise functions,” noted the Granma report in March announcing the changes.