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.

Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit