On Monday, January 23 trial proceedings will begin at the Royal Courts of Justice in London against the Government of Cuba, with the plaintiff seeking to recover millions in debt, which could lead to cause harsh sanctions against the regime's businesses and interests around the world.
The trial's imminence has spurred Havana's propaganda apparatus, starting last week, to prepare Cubans for an adverse sentence. Thus, the Superintendency of the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) issued a brief statement in which it rejects responsibility for the debt contracted by its predecessor, the National Bank of Cuba (BNC), before 1997, when it performed functions as a Central Bank.
Given the interest that the issue has aroused among Cubans, and the regime's attempts to downplay how serious the matter is, DIARIO DE CUBA offers here the details of the judicial proceedings about to begin.
The oral proceedings should last about eight days, with a prior reading of the allegations, which will take place between Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19. The suit, bearing number CL-2020-000092 and dated February 18, 2020 is entitled "CRF I Limited vs the National Bank of Cuba and the Republic of Cuba."
The hearing with witnesses will begin on Monday 23 January at 10:00 AM (London time). Because at least five of the respondents summoned by the defendant live in Cuba, the proceedings will include live video broadcasts and simultaneous translation.
Havana's witnesses include several former officials of the National Bank of Cuba that the regime indicted and sentenced in a secret trial in 2021, and that it blamed for allegedly receiving bribes to deliver the documents that allowed the CRF I to seize the debt bonds it is now attempting to collect on.
That allegation was rejected by CRF I, which alleges that the bribery story was fabricated by Havana to try to shirk its responsibility in the matter. The defense decided to drop this argument last December.
The witnesses are María Teresa Compte, a former secretary at the BNC, who was sentenced to five years of incarceration; Raúl Eugenio Olivera Lozano, accused of the crimes of bribery, among others, and sentenced to 13 years in prison; and René Lazo Fernández, the former president of the BNC (National Bank of Cuba), sentenced to one year in prison.
During an oral hearing prior to the trial, which DIARIO DE CUBA attended at the beginning of last December, the defendant's lawyers indicated that, as Olivera Lozano is being held at a prison outside Havana, he must be transferred to the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice to give his statement remotely.
They are joined by Melissa Pérez Fleitas, Joscelin Río Álvarez, Vladimir Regueiro Ale, Odalys del Nodal and Dr. Juan Mendoza Díaz, an expert witness for the defense, a professor of Procedural Law at the University of Havana, and president of the Cuban Procedural Law Association, tied to the regime-affiliated National Union of Jurists of Cuba.
The plaintiff's witnesses include David Charters, Jeetkumar Gordhandas, Don Stevenson and Hosanna Rodríguez Calvo, an expert witness who served as an official industrial property agent of Corporación Habanos S.A. and CUBATABACO, and is a former professor of Industrial Property Law at the University of Havana.
CRF I Limited is represented by the London-based law firm Rosenblatt, and its attorneys in the trial will be Jawdat Khurshid KC and Andrew Pearson.
The defendants are represented by the law firm PCB Byrne LLP, based in London, and its lawyers, Alison Macdonald KC, Anton Dudnikov and Mark Belshaw.
Lawyers with the KC (King's Counsel) title are eminent jurists who are often appointed in complex cases that require a higher level of legal experience.
According to the Cuba-U.S. Economic Council, this trial "is to determine jurisdiction. If the plaintiff wins, there will be arguments before the court as to its merits. If the plaintiff loses, which means that the assignment of the debt to CRF I Limited is declared invalid, the debt itself is not cancelled. The plaintiff and defendants will likely appeal if the verdict does not bolster their respective positions."
According to experts, if Havana loses the case and does not reach an agreement with the creditor party, the court could issue a green light to pursue Cuban assets anywhere in the world.This means that GAESA tankers could be seized and Cuban companies with subsidiaries in various parts of the world, as well as their bank accounts, could be intervened.
The Cuban Government is already in a very delicate situation after the Paris Club, its main creditor, granted it several grace periods and renegotiated the agreement between both parties for interest payments on the remaining debt, adjusted and renegotiated by Raúl Castro almost a decade ago.
Havana reached an agreement in 2015 with some members of the Paris Club, in which it agreed to pay 2.6 billion dollars of the 11.1 billion that it owed in capital, interest accumulated on the debt with other governments.
Some time later, the plaintiff, CRF, formed the "London Creditors Club" and sought to reach a similar agreement. But, after seven years of trying to do so, its requests were ignored or rejected by the Cuban government, CRF said in a statement in 2020.
At the time when Cuba stopped making interest payments, Fidel Castro referred to debt as a "cancer created by imperialism." Later, in late 2014 Raul Castro oversaw a rapprochement with U.S. President Barack Obama that was seen as an opportunity for Cuba to normalize its trade relations and acquire new loans.
DIARIO DE CUBA spoke to Cuban economist Emilio Morales, who commented on the situation: "CRF I has long tried to negotiate the debt that Cuba has with them, but the Cuban government, as always, evades payment, using different underhanded tactics, its typical thug-like behavior, that which it has always exhibited, and it's not going to change."
"If this suit is won, the Cuban government would be facing a second embargo, as this company could pursue the assets that the regime has outside the country. With the multi-system crisis that the island is suffering, not negotiating this debt is like putting a gun to your head," he noted.
What out does Havana have to deal with the serious problem it is facing? "They'll end up selling the country, that's the only option they have left," Morales said.