Good deal gone bad: two British investors jailed without charge in Havana

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Businessmen who planned to build a £325m luxury golf resort are feared to be victims of Caribbean island's anti-corruption drive

When Cuba and its Communist regime made it known they were open to foreign investment, Britain's Coral Capital Group and its top London-based executives were in the vanguard of the flurry of money men who beat a path to Havana to pour millions into the country's picturesque but creaking infrastructure.

At first, all went well for Andrew Purvis, an arts-loving architect, and Amado Fakhre, a Lebanese-born British citizen, who moved out to Cuba several years ago with their families. Coral Capital and its wealthy backers secured a series of partnership deals with state-owned companies, and was soon involved in everything from a plastics factory to an £18m building refurbishment that created one of Havana's most sought-after hotels.

Then, with their greatest prize yet seemingly within their reach – a £325m luxury golf course and resort – it all went wrong. The two men, both British citizens, are currently languishing in prison without charge on apparent suspicion of making corrupt payments to further business deals.

Mr Purvis, who was detained in March, and Mr Fakhre, who has been held since October, have both been questioned at the Villa Marista, the headquarters of the Cuban Interior Ministry's counter-intelligence directorate which has held hundreds of political prisoners since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. Security officials are known to boast that everyone eventually "sings" after a spell in the villa.

The Foreign Office this week confirmed that diplomats have been able to gain access to the two Britons. But the conditions in which the men are being held remain unclear – along with the detailed reasons for their detention.

An FCO spokesman said: "We can confirm that two British nationals have been arrested. We continue to provide consular assistance to them and their families."

Coral Capital, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands and has its UK offices in the heart of Westminster, told The Independent: "Our colleagues remain in custody in Havana. Very little information has been provided to us by the Cuban authorities, and to date no formal charges exist against these individuals. The directors of Coral Capital Group have offered full co-operation to the Cuban authorities and very much hope that Mr Fakhre and Mr Purvis will be released soon."

The extra-judicial detention of the two Britons is part of a wider crackdown by the Caribbean island's authorities on alleged corruption involving state-owned businesses and their foreign partners. Last year, two Canadian companies were closed down by the authorities, while two Chilean businessmen with dealings in Cuba were sentenced in absentia to a total of 35 years imprisonment for bribery. A host of Cuban managers in sectors from sugar to cigars, including former friends of Fidel Castro, have also been arrested.

An exodus of foreign companies – Britain's Unilever is understood to be in the process of winding up its 15-year partnership in Cuba (the company has not been accused of corruption) – does not sit well with plans announced last year by the government of Fidel Castro's brother, Raul, to embark on a multibillion-dollar building programme involving marinas, manufacturing zones and up to 12 luxury golf courses, financed by foreign investors.

Coral Capital, which was set up in 1999 and is funded by between 20 and 30 high-net-worth individuals and a private equity group, had been in a unique position to capitalise on that opportunity. Mr Purvis, 51, who once described himself as being probably Havana's only member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, had immersed himself in Cuban life, becoming a vice-chairman of an international school and a producer of a dance show, Havana Rakatan, which has successfully gone on tour to Australia and the West End.

As chief operating officer of Coral Capital, he and Mr Fakhre, who is chief executive, employed a staff of 35 in two offices in Havana to oversee ventures ranging from the sale of Land Rovers to running hotels.

In an interview last year, Mr Purvis said: "We have invested time here; we've moved our families here. We understand the culture. Cubans want to do business with people they know."

The jewel in the crown of the company's portfolio is the Bellomonte golf resort – a vast project, shared like other foreign ventures on a 50-50 basis with a Cuban company, to convert a dazzling stretch of pristine coast east of Havana into a resort with 1,100 villas and apartments, an 18-hole golf course, a beachfront hotel and commercial space. Work on the first phase, costing £80m, had been due to start later this year.

The development of golf is of both symbolic and economic importance in Cuba. One of Fidel Castro's first acts after the revolution – after being photographed playing a few rounds in Havana with his comrade-in-arms Che Guevara – was to close nearly all of the country's courses.

But with the rise in the sport's global popularity, the prospect of attracting big-spending golfers from Europe and beyond to a series of state-of-the-art golfing resorts is at the heart of Raul Castro's masterplan to reinvigorate the island's Soviet-style economy.

Experts on Cuba, where the number of foreign joint ventures has fallen from 700 a decade ago to about 240 today, say the corruption investigations rest on a disparity between the salary paid to managers of state enterprises, who like almost all workers receive around £13 a month, and turnover, which can reach many millions of dollars.

Small under-the-table payments of $100 (£65) are thought to be common, although Cuban investigators have also seized millions of dollars from senior officials accused of bribery.

It is not known whether Mr Purvis or Mr Fakhre, who has apparently been told he will not face serious charges, are accused of wrongdoing in connection with the golf course project or any other of Coral Capital's areas of activity. In the meantime, human rights campaigners have raised concern and the Bellomonte project remains on ice.

Laritza Diversent, a Havana-based human rights lawyer, said: "If people are detained without charge, it is an illegal act by the authorities."

Villa Marista

The Havana prison where the two Britons are being held was originally a Catholic school for boys. Later it became notorious for its detention of political prisoners by the Cuban national security agency.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.