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Cuban government probes corruption involving Town’s new transit company’s president

Cover Nov 2, 12(Nov 02 12) When new buses started to roll in Fort Erie on Oct. 1 under a fresh $3.4 million contract with the Town, the transit company’s president cooled his heels in a Cuban prison.

Cy Tokmakjian, founder and president of Tokmakjian Inc., parent company of Can-Ar Coach Service of Concord, Ont., has been under arrest for more than a year while authorities in Cuba investigate allegations of corrupt practices.

He has not been charged with any crime, but Cuban law allows the government to imprison people during an investigation.

He was placed under house arrest on the “last day of September” last year, said senior vice-president Ajay Mehra.

According to a report by Reuters news agency, he was originally detained in a “safe house” then transferred to a prison for foreigners early this year.

Mehra said the company had been operating in Cuba for 25 years selling and leasing heavy equipment used in construction and mining when the government closed the company’s operations and arrested Tokmakjian.

In the past few months, the company had been allowed to resume some operations in Cuba, Mehra said.

Tokmakjian and another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian, head of Tri-Star Caribbean, as well as another British businessman, were arrested and their operations shut down in relation to a case involving the expansion of a nickel and cobalt processing plant.

Twelve people were convicted in August, including former officials in the Ministry of Basic Industry and the directors of state-run companies, according to the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Cuban officials have not made any statement about their allegations against the foreign businessmen.

A spokesman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed two Canadians are being held and their cases are being monitored.

Wins Town transit contract

Town staff was not aware of the situation with Tokmakjian when proposals to operate Fort Erie’s conventional transit buses were received last November.

“It’s the first I heard of it. It wasn’t disclosed to us at any time in the process,” said Carla Stout, the Town’s transit administrator.

Tokmakjian Inc., was awarded the contract with the Town last December. It is a five-year deal with an option for another three years. The total value of the eight-year proposal is approximately $3.4 million.

“I wasn’t doing Google searches other than checking professional references,” she said. “I don’t normally go into the details of personal references of officers of corporations to find out what they’re up to internationally.”

Mehra said he couldn’t remember the details about when the proposal was prepared.

“The whole situation happened in the last day of September so we would not have put it in there,” he said.

The company has been operating “very successfully” since then, Mehra said. “We even got a new contract with York Region for 70 buses.”

“The problem in Cuba is there is no such thing as law and order. They can do whatever they like . . . they have the right to keep him until they finalize their investigation.”

As well as the Fort Erie and York Region transit services, Can-Ar runs a 40-bus highway coach service.

Tokmakjian Inc. also owns SNC Diesel which operates a 65,000 square-foot facility for heavy maintenance and repair of buses for more than half a dozen of the largest transit services in Ontario, including GO, Metrolinx, York, Durham, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Tokmakjian’s son, Raffi, has taken over as president, Mehra said.

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