Swiss cement company Holcim caught trafficking stolen property in Cuba

Court documents from a lawsuit filed in Spain have revealed that Swiss cement manufacturer Holcim, a large firm that claims to be the top supplier of cement in the U.S., went to extreme measures to hide its role in the trafficking of stolen property in Cuba. According to those documents, Holcim ignored their legal counsel who warned them the deal with Cuba violated U.S. law. Instead, the Swiss company created fictitious companies to conceal its partnership with the Cuban dictatorship from the U.S. government and purchase private property in Cuba stolen by the Castro family mafia in 1960 from its lawful American owners.

Juan Tamayo has the report in The Miami Herald:
Investment in Cuban cement plant is questioned

A lawsuit in Spain has turned up documents indicating that a giant Swiss firm invested in a cement plant in Cuba despite warnings the deal might violate U.S. law because the plant sits on land seized from U.S. citizens.

“Holderbank’s investment in the Cienfuegos property clearly would constitute ‘trafficking’ in confiscated property under Title IV of Helms-Burton,” wrote U.S. lawyers hired to advise the Zurich-based Holderbank, now named Holcim, the world’s largest cement company.

The deal to update and manage the plant went through in 2000, but ownership was put under a string of companies in Spain, the Netherlands and Panama to put distance between Holcim and the investment, according to a dozen documents filed in the lawsuit.

Holcim, whose website claims it is the largest supplier of cement in the United States, said it has no investments in Cuba. “Holcim does not own a business or a stake in a business in Cuba,” said spokesman Eike Christian Meuter.

The court documents, obtained by el Nuevo Herald, are part of a lawsuit involving three Spanish firms. Firebrick SA and Acedos Trading allege that Inversiones Ibersuizas owes them more than $2 million from an old investment in Cuba.

The legal battle dates back to 2000, when Acedos Trading and Ibersuizas joined forces for an attempt to enter the home-construction market in Cuba.

The attempt failed, but Ibersuizas then proposed to Holderbank that they establish a 50-50 partnership with Cuba to run the Carlos Marx cement plant in Cienfuegos, the documents showed. The Swiss firm was to provide capital, technical expertise and management, one document said.

A July 11, 2000, letter to Ibersuizas signed by Marcos Portal, then Cuba’s minister of basic industries, said Havana had accepted “the offer presented by Ibersuizas-Holderbank to establish a joint venture in the Carlos Marx plant.”

One month earlier, the Arnold & Porter firm in Washington raised a red flag after it was retained to advise Holderbank “regarding the risk posed under U.S. law” if the Swiss firm invested in the Cienfuegos plant and another in eastern Santiago de Cuba.

The Cienfuegos project represented a “significant and immediate risk” under the U.S. 1996 Helms-Burton law because the plant sat on land seized from U.S. citizens, the law firm wrote in a fax to Holderbank. The Santiago investment was probably OK, it said.

In the Cienfuegos project, “the only feasible way for Holderbank to minimize these risks is to reach a negotiated settlement” with the U.S. citizens who had owned the land, added the fax, dated June 12, 2000, and part of the court record.

Under Helms-Burton, the United States can deny visas to foreigners — as well as their spouses and children — who “traffic” on such properties. The Carlos Marx plant sits on the Soledad sugar cane farm, seized in 1960 from the Claflin family of Boston.

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