Canadian sentenced to 10 years in prison in Cuba has been trapped, says lawyer

A Canadian sentenced to 10 years in prison in Cuba claims his innocence, and his lawyer argues that his client was probably trapped after a night party in a coastal town near the seaside resort of Varadero.
B stamin Tomlin, 46, an employee of the Canada Development Investment Corporation (CDEV), was arrested in August 2018 and charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl. The age of consent in Cuba is 16 years old.

Tomlin’s Canadian lawyer, Ricardo Alcolado Perez, argued that the judicial process was tainted with irregularities. None of the witnesses in this case – including the minor with whom he is accused of having sex – identified Benjamin Tomlin in court, said Alcolado Perez in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Benjamin Tomlin’s sister Caroline Simpson of Montreal claimed that her brother had been “abandoned” by Canada. She added that he did not receive adequate consular services because of a shortage of staff resulting from the mysterious “Havana Syndrome” that made Canadian and US embassy employees sick.

Simpson argued that Global Affairs Canada should issue a travel warning to citizens planning to travel to Cuba.

“Canadians are not aware,” she said in an interview. “They think Cuba is a safe place … and because the embassy is understaffed, if something goes wrong, you have no support and you are totally left to your own devices.”

She said she was told many times by Global Affairs Canada that the ministry would not interfere in the Cuban justice system. “But there is no justice system out there,” she said of Cuba. “They do not even respect their own laws.”

Minor prostitutes

Benjamin Tomlin’s troubles began in February 2017. He met a group of Cubans and partied with them at a friend’s home and then at a disco in Cardenas, about 30 kilometers south of Varadero. After the party in a nightclub, the group would have gone to a private house.

Tomlin left the country the next day, but an arrest warrant was then issued against him without his knowledge, said Alcolado Perez. Upon his return to Cuba in August 2018, Benjamin Tomlin was quickly arrested and charged with having sex with a minor.

Alcolado Perez said that what Benjamin Tomlin did not know is that at least two of the women attending the club tonight in February 2017 were underage prostitutes who were under investigation. The two young women were arrested by police after Tomlin left the country in 2017 and made statements against him.

Benjamin Tomlin remembers going to a house in Cardenas after going out to the disco and falling asleep – then waking up to find his cell phone stolen and some money, his lawyer said. The Canadian says he never had sex that night.

Alcolado Perez was present at the trial of Benjamin Tomlin, which lasted less than a day. He stated that the court rejected the testimony of the alleged victim because it was considered vague and misleading. “She could not identify Ben,” said Alcolado Perez.

Supported by his employer

The lawyer, originally from Cuba, but practicing law in Toronto, was hired by the employer of Benjamin Tomlin, the state corporation CDEV, to assist him in his legal proceedings.

Benjamin Tomlin’s sister argues that detention conditions are painful and she fears for her safety.

Zoltan Ambrus, Vice President of CDEV, said that Mr. Tomlin was a frank and honest man. Mr. Ambrus said he spoke to the Canadian detainee about 12 times since he was detained. The conversations rarely last more than two minutes, he said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is visiting Cuba on Wednesday. She must meet her Cuban counterpart, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla.

Freeland’s spokesperson did not say whether the minister planned to discuss Benjamin Tomlin’s case with the Cuban authorities. The spokesperson relayed the issues of The Canadian Press to Global Affairs Canada.

Barbara Harvey, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the federal government “is aware of a Canadian citizen imprisoned in Cuba.” She added that the consular agents provided assistance to the family and local authorities.

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