Cuba charges Chilean executive linked to Castro in corruption probe, calls for his capture

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba is giving a colorful Chilean businessman with longtime personal ties to Fidel Castro another three weeks to appear in a corruption probe, but has formally charged him with fraud and ordered its agents to find, capture and escort him to the island.

The decree by the Interior Ministry does not spell out whether an arrest warrant has been issued for Max Marambio or ask for international law enforcement's help in tracking him down.

Instead, it says the 63-year-old has until Aug. 23 to return to Cuba and "exhorts all authorities and agents to take all necessary action to look for, capture and present this person," saying he will be considered a fugitive if he fails to appear in time.

The summons was signed Tuesday and subsequently posted on the website of Cuba's official gazette, where the government publishes laws. Authorities had previously given Marambio until July 29 to appear before investigators and said that if he missed that deadline, he could face a possible arrest warrant.

The latest decree also formally charges Marambio with bribery, embezzlement, falsifying documents and fraud.

The charges stem from a corruption probe that began in April, when a top Chilean executive who worked for Marambio was found dead in his Havana apartment after being questioned by investigators. The cause of death has not been revealed.

In the Chilean capital of Santiago, Marambio's whereabouts were unknown and he was not available for comment. One of his attorneys, Juan Pablo Hermosilla, said last month that Marambio had received written queries about the case and intended to cooperate, but that he was unsure if investigators wanted to interview him as a witness or suspect. Hermosilla also said at the time that Marambio would appear in Cuba.

This week's decree leaves no doubt that Marambio is a suspect, however, and reached for comment Thursday, Hermosilla said that though he remains one of Marambio's lawyers, he was no longer representing him in the Cuban case.

Marambio met Castro in 1966 while accompanying his father on a trip to Cuba as part of a delegation of sympathetic political leaders. He later became the chief bodyguard of Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende.

After Allende was toppled in a 1973 military coup, Marambio sought refuge in Cuba where he maintained close ties to Castro and developing wide-ranging business interests, transforming from revolutionary to multimillionaire tycoon.

Rio Zaza, the company he part-owned with the Cuban government, made Tropical Island juices and other products that were ubiquitous in hard-currency stores catering to foreigners and tourists. The brand has all but disappeared since the probe was launched earlier this year.

The investigation of Rio Zaza is one of several moves against high-level corruption. In March, Cuba removed veteran revolutionary Rogelio Acevedo from his post overseeing the country's airlines and airports amid speculation that he had committed fraud and embezzlement.

Esteban Morales, a senior pro-government intellectual, published a stinging essay recently that called corruption a greater threat to Cuba's communist system than the island's small and fractured political opposition movements. He warned that top officials were waiting like vultures to snap up the country's resources, much like the oligarchs who grabbed control of business in the Soviet Union following its collapse.

His essay appeared on a state-run website, and Morales was later ordered expelled from the Communist Party — a punishment he is appealing.