British executives cleared of corruption after two years in Cuban jail

Embassy
confirms two men released after a secret court hearing

Two British executives who faced corruption charges in Cuba have been released following a closed court hearing, the British Embassy said.

The men were both employed by investment firm Coral Capital Group, which had worked in joint ventures with the Cuban government and represented foreign car companies in the country. It was shut down as part of a campaign against corruption let by President Raul Castro.

Amado Fakhre, the executive director of the company, and Stephen Purvis, its public face and chief of operations, had both been held in La Condesa prison in Havana for two years prior to trial.

The court hearing in late May was closed to the press, and government officials still have not released any information about the proceedings. It is understood that six Cubans were also tried in the case.

Embassy spokesman Rhys Patrick said Purvis was let go on Monday and Fakhre was released on Wednesday. He said he couldn't discuss why the men were freed, or given any information on their whereabouts.

President Castro has described corruption as the most serious threat to the country’s socialist system, and authorities have been pursuing a large number of cases in recent years.

At an international press conference on corruption in November 2011, the Cuban Standard business news site reported Attorney General Dario Delgado Cura as saying: “We will continue fighting until exhaustion, with fire and sword, against all signs of corruption in the country, no matter whether committed by foreigners or nationals.”

Several dozen defendants have ended up in jail, including foreigners and high government officials accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes.

A week before the trial of the British men, Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian, president of Tri-Star Caribbean import company, was tried in the same courthouse on reported charges of bribery, tax evasion and "activities damaging to the economy." No verdict has been announced in Yacoubian's case, but the Toronto Star has quoted a brother as saying Yacoubian was sentenced to nine years in prison.

A spokesman for Canada's Foreign Ministry, Barbara Harvey, said corruption charges also have been lodged against two other Canadian businessmen, Cy Tokmakjian and Krikor Bayassalian.

Harvey said she couldn't discuss any of the three cases, except to say Canadian officials are monitoring them and providing consular support.

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