Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rio Zaza back in the news - Reuters

No corruption by former Castro friend says his attorney

Wednesday, July 21
HAVANA (Reuters) - A lawyer for a Chilean businessman and former close friend of Fidel Castro vowed on Wednesday to prove his client's innocence after Cuba accused him of bribery, fraud and other crimes in a high-profile corruption case.

Chilean Attorney Juan Pablo Hermosilla said information would reveal "the total inconsistency of the supposed crimes" for which Chile-based magnate Max Marambio is being investigated.

"We do not doubt that if an impartial and objective investigation is carried out, it will show the total adherence to Cuban law with which Max Marambio has acted in commercial activities in Cuba," Hermosilla said in a statement.

Marambio had a joint venture with the Cuban government known as Rio Zaza that produced fruit juice, milk and other products. It is being investigated for financial irregularities.

A decree published on Tuesday in the island's Official Gazette said Marambio had been summoned to appear before Cuban investigators on July 29 or face action that lawyers say could include an extradition warrant issued through Interpol.

It said Marambio is accused of bribery, fraud, embezzlement, falsifying banking and business documents and "acts damaging to economic activity and contracting."

Hermosillo said he has been in contact with Cuban authorities, who have sent written questions to answer. The official summons was a "normal procedure in an investigation of this type," he said.

The Rio Zaza case is one of several high-profile business cases under investigation in Cuba, where President Raul Castro has ordered a crackdown on corruption.

It became public in April when Marambio's local manager, fellow Chilean Roberto Baudrand, died suddenly in his Havana home due to what Cuban authorities described as a fatal mixture of alcohol and drugs.

They have not disclosed if they have ruled the death an accident, a suicide or something else.

Baudrand had been questioned by Cuban investigators and ordered not to leave the country.

Marambio was the bodyguard of Chilean President and Cuban ally Salvador Allende, who died in a 1973 coup.

He went into exile in Cuba, where he became close friends with Cuban leader Fidel Castro as he built a business empire on the communist-led island that extended to other Latin American countries.

He eventually returned to Chile, where he now lives.

Cuban civil aviation head Rogelio Acevedo, who fought alongside Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the Cuban revolution, was sacked in March in a case widely believed linked to President Castro's crackdown on corruption and to the investigation of Rio Zaza.

"We are sure that at the end of this investigation, we will legally prove that no crimes were committed in the functioning of Rio Zaza," Hermosillo said.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Xavier Briand).
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