Cuba frees jailed Canadian businessman


Toronto Star

A Canadian businessman who was serving a lengthy prison sentence in Cuba for corruption was abruptly expelled on Thursday, bringing to an end an ordeal in which he was first held without charges, and then sentenced to nine years in a tough jail.

Sarkis Yacoubian was reluctant to say much about the circumstances under which he left the communist island’s La Condesa prison less than a year into his sentence.

“I am home, and I just want to be close to my family, and with my mom,” Yacoubian said. “I feel greatly relieved to be back in Canada, and I just want to take my time and think over the whole experience.”

In July 2011, Yacoubian — who operated a $30 million transport company called Tri-Star Caribbean — was arrested by Cuban authorities. It wasn’t until April 2013 that he was formally accused of bribery, tax evasion and “activities damaging to the economy.”

In hopes of mitigating his sentence, Yacoubian decided to cooperate with authorities, and so the nine-year prison term, imposed at the end of a May 2013 trial, surprised his supporters. They began hoping for a transfer to a Canadian jail for the 53-year-old.

But because Yacoubian was expelled from Cuba, he said, he is not subject to transfer conditions that would require him to serve the rest of his sentence in Canada.

Yacoubian’s return to Toronto also raises questions about the legal status of another Canadian being held by Cuban authorities: 73-year-old Cy Tokmakjian remains in La Condesa prison, more than two years after his arrest and with no charges laid.

Tokmakjian, founder of the Tokmakjian Group transportation firm — one of the largest foreign operations in Cuba — was arrested September 2011. His family declined to comment on Yacoubian’s release, but a source close to them said they hoped it could mean there would be movement in Tokmakjian’s case.

Peter Kent, Tokmakjian’s Member of Parliament, told The Star that Yacoubian’s release had been expected, but that the news that he was back in Canada came as a relief.

“My greater concern is about Cy Tokmakjian. Two years without charge, in frail health,” said Kent, adding that Canadian government representatives “have on a number of occasions asked the Cuban authorities to either take him to court, lay charges or release him. And that continues to be our position . . . and that hasn’t happened.”

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