Cuba court sentences Chilean to 20 years for graft

A Cuban court sentenced Chilean revolutionary-turned-businessman Max Marambio, long a friend of Fidel Castro, to 20 years in prison for fraud and bribery following a trial in absentia, official news media reported Thursday.

Communist Party newspaper Granma also said a 15-year sentence was handed down to Alejandro Roca Iglesias, who was removed as food minister in March 2009.

Officials gave few details about the scandal, but Granma said the court "found that the crimes committed were particularly grave and required an energetic penal response due to the considerable damage caused by the accused to the national economy."

It said prosecutors presented compelling evidence that both "impaired the ethical behavior of various officials and subordinate workers." The men have 10 days to appeal the ruling.

Marambio did not mount a defense, let alone attend the proceedings in Havana, where he was represented by a government-appointed attorney. He said Thursday that he would not appeal what he called a show trial whose true intent was political persecution.

"There is nothing in the accusations against me that has any foundation," he told Chile's Cooperativa radio.

Marambio first met Fidel Castro in 1966 when he traveled to Cuba with his father, part of a delegation of sympathetic left-leaning political leaders. Marambio would later become chief bodyguard for Chile's socialist President Salvador Allende.

When a military coup toppled Allende in 1973, Marambio fled for Cuba where he developed close ties to Castro and ultimately established wide-ranging commercial interests including food company Rio Zaza, a joint venture with the Cuban government.

The corruption probe surfaced last year after a Chilean who worked for Marambio's company and had been questioned by investigators was found dead in his Havana apartment. Authorities have not said how he died.

Cuba accused top executives including Marambio and his brother Marcel Luis Marambio, a company vice president, of bribery, embezzlement and falsifying documents.

Prosecutors summoned Marambio from Chile for questioning and, when he failed to appear, put out an international arrest warrant.

On Thursday, Marambio said Cuba has never formally sought his extradition, "which leads one to think they have no interest in a real trial but rather a pantomime, which was what they did."

He accused President Raul Castro's government of "plundering" for having seized full control of the company.

Marambio filed a formal complaint against Cuba last year with an international business tribunal in Paris.


Associated Press writer Federico Quilodran in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.