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World: Trump company lawyers asked Panama president for help in hotel dispute
PublishedBy: in the new york times/worldApril 11, 2018

A man removes the word Trump, off a marquee outside the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City.

Lawyers representing the Trump Organization in a bitter dispute over management control of a luxury hotel in Panama City appealed directly to President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama to intercede.

In the March 22 letter, the Panamanian law firm Britton and Iglesias told Varela it was writing “to request in an URGENT manner” his intervention in the clash involving the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

The letter acknowledged the “separation of powers” in Panama but cautioned the president that the matter “has repercussions for the Panamanian state, which is your responsibility.”

At the time, the Trump Organization’s hotel management team had been evicted from the hotel but was still fighting to regain control. Several days after the letter was sent, an arbitrator ruled against the Trump company’s request that its management be reinstated.

The letter, which was first revealed Monday by the Panamanian daily newspaper La Prensa, does not explicitly mention President Donald Trump but refers to his company as the “well-known Trump Organization.” Trump continues to own the Trump Organization through a trust, but has turned over day-to-day management to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric.

In a statement, Britton and Iglesias denied that the letter “sought to ‘pressure’ the president of the Republic of Panama or any other official of the government of Panama.” The law firm said the letter was “very common” in international arbitration matters, and was “such a routine matter for our firm” that the Trump Organization had not been made aware of it until this week. In response to a request for comment, the Trump Organization on Tuesday forwarded the Panamanian law firm’s statement.

The office of Varela’s spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, referring inquiries to the Foreign Ministry. In a statement, the ministry said the letter dealt with “a purely commercial issue.”

“Differences arose between two companies, and the case was handled by the judiciary,” the ministry’s statement said. “It is not a bilateral issue between governments, much less political.”

The struggle over management of the hotel erupted late last year when the majority owner sought to fire the Trump hotel company, which had been managing the property under a long-term contract. The Trump firm resisted and the matter went to international arbitration and moved into the courts in Panama, New York and Delaware.

In early March, amid a several-day — and occasionally violent — standoff between Trump employees and the majority owner, Orestes Fintiklis, a Panamanian court authorized a change of administration. Police officers escorted Trump managers out of the building, workers promptly removed the Trump name from the property and Fintiklis renamed the hotel the Bahia Grand Panama, even peppering a new bar menu with sarcastically named drinks aimed at Trump.

In their March 22 letter to Varela, the lawyers for the Trump hotel management firm said the judiciary’s handling of the case had been rife with violations of due process and had therefore crossed a 1983 investment treaty between the United States and Panama.

The lawyers requested Varela’s use his “good offices” lest his government be blamed for what they called “the damages that this excessively bad administration of justice is causing.”

Several other legal matters related to the dispute remain to be resolved, including arbitration on damages.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

KIRK SEMPLE © 2018 The New York Times

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