A Cuban court charged 12 former government officials and executives with corruption for their involvement in a project to expand a nickel and cobalt processing plant in eastern Cuba, according to a report on Tuesday by the Communist Party newspaper Granma. The crimes occurred “during the negotiation, contracting and execution of the expansion of the Pedro Soto Alba nickel and cobalt plant.” Nickel is Cuba’s top export, and the Pedro Soto Alba nickel mine—a joint venture between state-owned nickel company Cubaniquel and Canadian mining company Sherritt International Corp.—is the largest in Holguín province.
Most of the charges involved the misuse of financial resources. The harshest prison sentences were handed down to Alfredo Rafael Zayas Lopez (12 years), Ricardo González Sánchez (10 years) and Antonio Orizón de los Reyes Bermúdez (eight years)—all former vice ministers of the Ministry of Basic Industry, which oversees nickel production. Cristobal de la Caridad Saavedra Montero, a former business director at Cubaniquel, was given a six-year sentence. The remaining eight defendants received between four and seven years each.
Since taking over for his brother Fidel in 2008, President Raúl Castro has stepped up the government’s fight against corruption, which he considers one of the “principal enemies of the revolution.” During a Communist Party Conference in January, Castro said he would be “implacable” against offenders. Given the Ministry of Basic Industries alleged involvement in the Pedro Soto Alba plant scandal, the Castro government disbanded it and replaced it shortly thereafter with the Ministry of Energy and Mines.