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Canadian Businessman on Trial in Cuban Corruption Crackdown

The trial of a Canadian businessman who confessed to bribing Cuban officials has begun in Havana, almost two years after his arrest in a government crackdown on corruption.

The closed trial of Sarkis Yacoubian, originally from Armenia and the owner of import firm Tri-Star Caribbean, is expected to last two days. Lebanese citizen Krikor Bayassalian is a co-defendant.

Foreign journalists were not allowed access to the court, and government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald newspapers reported last week the defendants are facing charges of bribery, tax evasion and "activities damaging to the economy.'' They reportedly face up to 12 years in prison.

After his arrest, Yacoubian quickly cooperated with prosecutors, confessing to bribery and implicating other foreign firms, which sparked an investigation into the communist-run country's import business. Within months, dozens of Cuban officials and state purchasers were behind bars.

The arrests were unprecedented for Cuba, where foreign businessmen suspected of corruption are usually deported, and are viewed as a measure of President Raul Castro's determination to clean up activity he views as a threat to Cuba's socialist system.

The corruption trials of at least three other Canadian and British executives who were arrested shortly after Yacoubian was taken into custody in July 2011 are expected to follow.

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