LONDON, August 22, 2001 — He was sacked at the end of 1999. In the ensuing row, the company, Romar Freezone Trading, accused him of incompetence, fraud, alcoholism and blackmail. Attempts were made to threaten him and, he says, to set him up on assault or drugs possession charges.
The company’s allegations were thrown out by an Aruba court, which in December 1999, he says, awarded him full compensation for loss of his job as a director of Romar for 10 years. He agreed to talk after discovering a year later that BAT had offered to compensate Romar for his dismissal. This made him feel that BAT too wanted him removed.
Solagnier still lives in Aruba. “In the beginning, I was very scared,” he says. But after briefing lawyers and officials investigating contraband and money laundering, he feels safer. “I put my story in the [local] paper. I have a little bit of protection. The point of danger has gone.” He has not asked to be paid for his story.
For the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba – a popular destination for tourists from the US and the Netherlands – the thriving contraband trade built up since 1982 was not, at first, of much concern to outsiders. But by the mid-1990s, its support role in the narcotics trade had put it at the heart of global action against money laundering and drug running.
For the Arubans, work in “exports” did not seem incompatible with public service. Alex Solagnier served on local institutions such as Medicaid. He also served as president of the island’s chamber of commerce and a local yacht club.
He became concerned about his employers, he says, when he began to suspect that, apart from what they were doing in Colombia, they were operating personal kickback schemes that may have been cheating the Aruba authorities and moving their wealth to other offshore havens.
In March 1999, Solagnier says he was told he had been asking too many ques tions. The company suggested he find a new job.
We asked Solagnier to fly to Washington to meet the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) last month. He took care to prove his identity, producing his passport and company records that showed his longstanding role inside Romar. These were verified from public records.
Much of what BAT had done in the early 1990s was familiar to us from a previous investigation by the ICIJ, based on BAT documents disclosed during lawsuits. Solagnier was able to describe these detailed changes in the relationship between BAT and Romar, confirming his authenticity and his memory.
Despite being warned by the judge in his 1999 case: “Are you aware that you are fighting one of the most powerful families in the country?” he agreed to speak openly. He says it is the pressure from investigations and lawsuits that has led to the shutting down of most of the illegal trade into Colombia, if not to other places.