Cuba frees two British businessmen from jail after secret 'corruption' trial
Two British businessmen who spent two years in jail on corruption charges in Cuba have been released after a secret trial.
Colin Freeman, The Telegraph
Stephen Purvis and his Lebanese-born colleague Amado Fakhre were held after their company, Coral Capital Group, fell foul of a massive anti-graft drive launched by President Raul Castro. Until then, their investment firm had been playing a leading role in developing the Caribbean island's tourist economy by financing luxury hotels and golf courses.
During their time in custody they were questioned at the Villa Marista, a notorious counter-intelligence headquarters, and then taken to a wing specially set aside for foreigners at La Condesa prison in Havana.
The British embassy, which has been providing both men with consular help, said that Mr Purvis was released on Monday and Mr Fakhre on Wednesday. Their trial took place behind closed doors last month.
No details of the charges against them have been released, although it is understood that half a dozen Cubans were also involved in the case. The detention of the two Britons has alarmed other foreign businesspeople working in Cuba, which is relying on foreign know-how to help its moribund communist economy adapt to market reforms.
An architect by training, 52-year-old Mr Purvis lived with his family in Cuba and was a well-known figure on the island, serving as the board member of an international school in Havana and as the producer of a local dance show. As Coral's chief operating officer, he was also the public face of the firm's plans to build an ambitious 1,200 home golf resort on prime beachland on the edge of the capital at Bellomonte.
The project, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, symbolised the U-turn that Cuba has made as it tries to modernise economically. Shortly after Raul's brother Fidel took power in 1959, he famously shut all the golf courses, claiming it was a "bourgeois" hobby that had no place in a communist revolutionary state.
Coral also spent $28 million modernising the Saratoga hotel, a landmark in Havana's historic city centre, and was also involved a raft of other businesses in Cuba, including ports, bottle manufacturing, film production and a Land Rover concession.
In an interview in 2011, Mr Purvis had said he felt confident doing business in Cuba, claiming to be well aware of the pitfalls that might put off other investors.
"We have invested time here; we've moved our families here," he said. "We understand the culture. Cubans want to do business with people they know."
However, all foreign investors in Cuba are required to have local partners by law, and in the last two years, dozens of senior Cuban managers, incuding vice-ministers and close associates of the Castro brothers, have been arrested on suspicion of taking kickbacks.
While few details of the Coral case have been made public, it is understood that they may have focused on the firm's sidelines in trade finance and import ventures rather than its real estate portfolio.
Mr Purvis was arrested in March last year, as he was about to take his children to school, while Mr Fakhre, who was Coral's executive director, was held in October 2011, following a raid by Cuban police on Coral's offices in Havana, which were then closed.
According to one report on the Reuters news agency, the two men were both found guilty of minor charges and released for time served. Mr Purvis was apparently told that he was free to leave the country, while Mr Fakhre's status was unclear. Neither could be reached for comment, nor was anyone available at Coral's office in London.
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