Corruption probe of joint Cuba-Sherritt nickel plant convicts 12

Two Canadians reportedly detained in another case linked to the probe were not listed among those convicted.

August 21, 2012   by ASSOCIATED PRESS

HAVANA, Cuba—A Cuban court has convicted a dozen people of corruption, including high-ranking government officials, an executive at a state-run nickel company and workers at a joint Cuban-Canadian concern, the official media announced.

Sentences range from four to 12 years in the case involving a contract for the expansion of the Pedro Soto Alba nickel and cobalt processing plant at the Moa mine, the Communist party newspaper Granma reported.

The court in the eastern province of Holguin took into account “the gravity of these acts and their harmful consequences in one of the strategic activities for the nation’s economy and the conduct of the accused, characterized by the loss of ethical values and deception,” the bulletin read.

The announcement was the first official confirmation of a probe that since last year has been the source of rumour and private discussion by diplomats on the island, part of a wider crackdown on graft that caught up several foreigners and sent a chill through the small foreign business community.

The stiffest prison terms were handed down to three former vice-ministers at the Ministry of Basic Industry, which oversees nickel production. They were Alfredo Rafael Zayas Lopez, sentenced to 12 years, Ricardo Gonzalez Sanchez, 10 years) and Antonio Orizon de los Reyes Bermudez, sentenced to eight years.

Cristobal de la Caridad Saavedra Montero, business director of state-run Cubaniquel, was given six years.

Accounting executive Alfredo Barallobre Rodriguez and deputy production director Orlando Carmenaty Olmo of Empresa Moa Nickel SA, jointly operated by Cuba and Toronto-based mining company Sherritt International Corp., were sentenced to six and five years, respectively.

Sherritt representatives did not immediately reply to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Six others were also sentenced. All can appeal.

Two foreign businesspeople told The Associated Press in November that the same probe had led to the shuttering of Canadian companies Tri-Star Caribbean and Tokmakjian Group, as well as investment firm Coral Capital Group, headed up by a Briton.

Two Canadians and a Czech who were reportedly detained in the case were not listed among those convicted.

Nickel production is one of Cuba’s main sources of foreign income, along with tourism.

In April a senior government official said the mineral accounted for 30% of exports in 2011, which would put nickel revenues at $1.8 billion for the year based on recently released overall export figures.

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