Cuba jails US fugitive over 'miracle drug'

Shadow over Castro: Suspicion mounts over mysterious court case as Aznar adopts tougher line

Robert Vesco, the one-time financier who fled United States justice for almost a quarter of century, has been jailed for 13 years in Cuba for fraud and illegal economic activity.

Vesco, 60, wanted in the US for allegedly running off with $224m (pounds 148m) of money from the Geneva-based Investors Overseas Services in the 1970s, had lived in Cuba since 1982.

The Cuban woman he married in custody earlier this year, Lidia Alfonso, was jailed for nine years for helping him procure foreign investment in a "miracle drug" against Aids and cancer, allegedly behind the back of the Cuban authorities.

Those are the facts of the court case, which Vesco has 10 days to appeal to Cuba's Supreme Court. But many Cubans believe there is far more to the story than meets the eye.

For one thing, when Vesco was first detained in Havana on 31 May last year, Cuba accused him of being a "provocateur and foreign agent". That charge was mysteriously dropped shortly before this month's trial, in which he was accused only of economic crimes against the state.

Secondly, Vesco told the court he had never met Cuban President Fidel Castro. But he had said in the past that he had done, and they were widely rumoured to be good friends.

Thirdly, the key to the court case was that Vesco was trying to sell the drug behind Cuba's back. But Vesco denied this and pointed out that he had been developing the drug TX, or Trioxidal, in the Havana laboratories of the state-owned Labiofam pharmaceutical company.

And that brings us to the tale of the two presidents' nephews. Labiofam is run by the Cuban leader's nephew, Fragga Castro. Donald Nixon Jnr, nephew of the former US president, was working on the drug in Havana with Vesco and was detained in Vesco's home on the same day, 31 May last year. Mr Nixon was freed after several weeks of supervision in a Havana hotel.

The rumour spreading through Havana is that the "miracle drug" was showing signs of success, heralding a battle between Cuba on the one side, and Vesco, Mr Nixon and its US inventor on the other, over potential billion- dollar profits. Mr Nixon said he brought the drug, invented by a doctor friend, to Vesco in Havana four years ago for testing and development after it cured his wife of cancer. The inventor wanted to bypass the 10- 12 year delay for approval in the US.

"I'm sitting on top of the biggest breakthrough in the history of man," Mr Nixon told The Independent. "I believe it would stop every disease including Aids. If you have herpes on your lip and you put it on immediately, it's gone. If you put it on a burn, it's gone within a minute."

Mr Nixon said the drug had been tested on Cubans aged from five to 80 with "rave results" and that the Cuban government had signed a development and production deal with the unnamed US inventor. "This could be worth $1bn a month. And the inventor will eventually receive the Nobel prize," Mr Nixon said.

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