Panama won't back Trump Organization in luxury hotel spat

Panama City (AFP) –


Panama will not intercede on behalf of the Trump Organization in a bitter dispute with the new owners of a luxury hotel in Panama City, the country's foreign minister said Monday.

Isabel de Saint Malo, who is also Panama's vice president, said lawyers for the Trump Organization had sent several letters to various branches of the government, including the presidency and the foreign ministry, asking for help in regaining control of the complex.

"This is a letter that calls on the Panamanian executive to meddle in an issue that is clearly a legal matter," she said.

"I don't think that the executive has a position to take while legal proceedings are under way because that would be meddling in an issue that is not within the (government's) remit."

Copies of the letter asking for Panama's intervention were leaked on social media. The foreign minister confirmed the missive's authenticity.

The dispute centers on an exclusive waterfront complex in Panama City where until recently, the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel was located in a building managed by the US president's property company, the Trump Organization.

But last year, the hotel and most of the apartments in the building were bought by Miami-based businessman Orestes Fintiklis, who in March evicted the Trump Organization before its management contract had ended.

Blaming the Trump name for a drop in business, he expelled the management company from the building and removed the president's name from the front of the luxury 72-floor high rise, triggering a flurry of retaliatory legal action.

In the letter, the lawyers ask President Juan Carlos Varela to urgently use his influence in the dispute involving the Trump hotel.

After presenting their case and outlining potential losses, the lawyers appeal directly to Varela, saying his intervention would help avoid a situation in which legal blame could be attributed to the Panamanian government itself.

De Saint Malo said the letter also alluded to the "protection of investments," but didn't elaborate further.

The Trump firm has launched legal proceedings to regain control of the hotel, which was opened by the billionaire businessman himself in 2011 and cuts a distinctive sail-shaped figure among the towers crowding the capital city.

Inside are more than 1,000 rooms, apartments, shops, a spa and a casino. It even has a small private beach.

Fintiklis, a managing partner of Ithaca Capital Partners, has renamed the hotel "The Bahia Grand."