A Cuban court has sentenced Cy Tokmakjian, a Canadian executive, to 15 years in prison for bribery and other economic charges in a case his company and Western diplomats have called a chilling development for potential foreign investors.

Two of Tokmakjian's aides, Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, both Canadian citizens from the Tokmakjian Group, received sentences of 12 and eight years on Sunday, the Ontario-based transportation firm said in a statement.

Cuba also seized about $100m worth of the company's assets, the Tokmakjian Group said.

The group, which did an estimated $80m in business annually with Cuba until it was shuttered in September 2011, called the case a "show trial" and a "travesty of justice."

Tokmakjian, 74, the company's founder and president, has been detained since Septemeber 2011 on charges that include bribery, fraud, tax evasion, and falsifying bank documents.

Fourteen Cubans were also charged but the result of their cases was unknown. Cuba has yet to comment on the verdict of sentencing, the Reuters news agency reported.

Lack of due process doesn't begin to describe the travesty of justice that is being suffered by foreign businessmen in Cuba.

Tokmakjian Group statement

The Cubans included Nelson Labrada, the former deputy minister of the defunct Sugar Ministry, and Ernesto Gomez, former director of the state nickel company, Ferroniquel Minera.

Prosecutors were seeking a 20-year sentence for Labrada and terms of eight to 12 years for the other Cubans.

Evidence 'weak'

"Lack of due process doesn't begin to describe the travesty of justice that is being suffered by foreign businessmen in Cuba," the Tokmakjian Group statement said. 

The group was one of the more successful foreign companies in Cuba, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment.

It was then caught up in an investigation of Cuba's international trading sector as part of a crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro.

The case has strained Cuba's relationship with Canada, and the company has pressed the Canadian government to ask Havana for the release of the three executives. 

Western diplomats have called into question the charges, saying the evidence was weak, and said it would dissuade foreign investors at a time Cuba is actively seeking partners from abroad to do business on the Communist-ruled island.

The Tokmakjian Group has already started fighting the charges by filing claims worth more than $200m against Cuba through the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, and in Canada through the Ontario Superior Court.

Cuba has been touting a new foreign investment law that took effect this year, part of an overt campaign to attract foreign direct investment that is crucially needed for development.

The main feature of the law is to lower taxes. But many foreign companies have said they are more interested in the general business climate, transparency and the rule of law, especially in light of this case.

Source: Agencies