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Trial nears end for Canadian man in Cuba crackdown

HAVANA - The trial of a Canadian businessman detained nearly three years ago in Cuba as part of a high-profile crackdown on corruption is drawing to a close, an associate said Wednesday.

Court proceedings for Cy Tokmakjian, president of the Ontario-based automotive company Tokmakjian Group, are scheduled to end Friday, company vice-president Lee Hacker said by phone from Canada.

He said he did not want to make any further comment for now: "It's a very sensitive issue."

Cuban officials and state media have not mentioned the trial publicly. A press officer at Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that consular officials were monitoring the case of "the Canadian citizen who is detained in Cuba," but declined to give more details citing privacy concerns.

The trial comes four months after another Canadian businessman, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was abruptly released and returned to his country after serving just 2 1/2 years of a nine-year prison sentence in Cuba.

Both were arrested in 2011 as Cuban President Raul Castro's offensive against graft was in full swing. Dozens of Cuban executives and government officials and several other foreigners were also swept up.

Cuban officials characterized it not as a campaign against corruption but rather a systemic, permanent change for a country where payoffs have often been considered an unavoidable cost of doing business: anything from a comped meal or a new TV to luxury vacation or cash deposits in overseas accounts.

At the same time, the crackdown has sent a chill through the business community even as Cuba tries to attract much-needed foreign investment with a new law approved earlier this year.

The Canadian ambassador's automobile was seen Wednesday outside a Havana courthouse where Tokmakjian's trial was presumably taking place.

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Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

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