Hot Off the Presses

Call it the case of the purloined papers -- 40 Sunday newspapers, mysteriously waylaid two and a half weeks ago on their way from London to Miami. No one seems to know exactly what happened to them, but dark allegations of a conspiratorial sequestration have elicited all manner of speculation. Normally 40 vanished editions, even well-written ones like these, would never make the news. But these contained a certain article about a certain wealthy Cuban family with a powerful presence in Miami. The Independent on Sunday, a respected London paper, ran a long, colorful cover story in its September 22 Sunday Review magazine about the far-flung Bacardi rum and spirits empire and the now-feuding extended family that has controlled the business since its founding in Santiago de Cuba 150 years ago.

Titled "Trouble in the House of Spirits," the article by the Independent's Washington-based U.S. correspondent John Carlin is an account of unprecedented turmoil besetting the very private Bacardis, whose closely held multinational business interests are estimated to exceed a worth of $2.2 billion. At the heart of the trouble are contractor Randy Bisson and his wife, Bacardi heiress Lisette Arellano, who are suing Lisette's mother, brother, and sister, seeking millions of dollars they claim have been illegally kept from Arellano. The Bissons have also convinced U.S. tax authorities to investigate the family's complex web of offshore trust funds, which the couple alleges are tax-evasion tools and which, Bisson believes, will eventually "land the whole family in jail."

Strangely, none of the 40 copies of the Independent on Sunday that are usually delivered each Monday to a few newsstands in Dade and Broward counties -- the extent of the Independent's distribution here -- actually got to the local distributor on September 23. Which means no one in Miami could buy an Independent that day and read Carlin's entertaining story that begins with a quote from the mercurial Randy Bisson: "I'm here to save my wife from these pigs! I love my wife and I love my babies and I'll defend them from these croqueta-munching bastards to my dying breath! I'm gonna take these evil people down!"

Bisson, in fact, is certain the Bacardi family, always publicity-shy, bought up the editions bound for South Florida. In the succeeding week he made his convictions abundantly clear to Carlin and the Independent, to other news media, and to the paper's distributors and sellers. "It was too much of an embarrassment for them in Miami, and since there weren't that many papers coming to Miami, they could get them all," declares Bisson, adding only half-jokingly, "I was going to fly over Calle Ocho and throw out a bunch of 'em."

He made so much noise that Carlin, who says another contact in Miami apart from Bisson also propounds the Bacardi buy-up theory, asked the Independent's Washington bureau office manager to try to find out what did happen to the papers. "The poor dear has been playing Sherlock Holmes for the past week," Carlin laments, "and unfortunately has been beating her head against the wall. It really is getting a tiny bit silly."

The only indisputable fact is that the Independent's distributor for Dade and Broward, Anderson News, did not receive its usual allotment September 23 from the national distributor, Speedimpex in Long Island. FEC News, the distributor for Palm Beach County and other counties north of Broward, did receive its shipment from Speedimpex, as did other local distributors in major U.S. cities. Speedimpex, however, offers several possible explanations for missing Miami, ranging from mislabeling of shipments in London to truck driver error, or simply a mistake. "We are trying to understand if this title flies directly from London as we believe or if it is being shipped from New York," said a man at Speedimpex who declined to identify himself. "I still don't know."

Yet neither Anderson nor FEC got their Independents the following Sunday, either. Neither distributor knows why; both say many factors could contribute to the problem, but they doubt the Bacardi family is one of them. "That's the most bizarre thing I've heard in my whole life," says Jorge Rodriguez, a Bacardi family member and spokesman. "We have nothing to do with this and no interest in doing anything.


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