Family of Canadian businessman jailed in Cuba maintains he's innocent

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VAUGHAN, Ontario — The son of a Canadian automobile executive who has been sentenced to 15 years in jail in Cuba on corruption charges said Monday his dad maintains he's innocent and is determined to fight for his freedom.

Raffi Tokmakjian said during an emotional news conference on Monday that the claims against his father Cy Tokmakjian, who owns the Ontario-based automotive company Tokmakjian Group, are "completely false."

The company said the charges against Tokmakjian, 74, were concocted as an excuse to seize the automotive firm's $100 million in assets in Cuba. The company's Cuban offices were raided in 2011 as Cuba launched an anti-graft drive that has swept up foreign business executives from at least five nations as well as government officials and dozens of Cuban employees at state-run companies.

Raffi Tokmakjian described his father, who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, as a proud man with "the utmost integrity."

He said he hasn't seen his father in three years but they have spoken over the phone.

"Every time he calls he reminds us, he says, 'I've done nothing, you know that. Everybody knows that. You cannot stop fighting for what's right,'" Raffi Tokmakjian said.

"'They've already taken three years of my life, but I will not admit to anything I have not done.'"

The company said its lawyers were notified Friday that Tokmakjian, 74, was convicted and sentenced on a variety of charges that Cuban officials call part of a widespread campaign against graft. He was held for more than two years before being tried in June.

Canadian Member of Parliament Peter Kent, whose Thornhill district includes the company's headquarters, has said that Tokmakjian should be sent back home, calling the conviction a "travesty of justice."

He could be expelled from Cuba or transferred to a Canadian facility instead of serving out his sentence there, Kent said.

Kent said the case is "a very strong reminder that international investors should beware" when dealing with Cuba.

Foreign business people have long considered payoffs ranging from a free meal to cash deposits in overseas accounts to be an unavoidable cost of doing business in Cuba. President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is one of the country's most important challenges.

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