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Police, yelling, power turned off: Confrontation over Trump’s Panama hotel escalates

Trump International Panama (center) is seen between apartment buildings in Panama City on Friday.
Trump International Panama (center) is seen between apartment buildings in Panama City on Friday. (Stringer/Reuters)

PANAMA CITY — The majority owner of President Trump’s only hotel in Latin America abruptly ordered Trump employees out of the property on Thursday, triggering a confrontation in which Trump employees refused to leave and asked police to intervene, according to the Trump Organization and local news reports.

This attempt at a takeover by Orestes Fintiklis — a Cypriot businessman based in Miami — marked a sharp escalation in his months-old effort to re-brand the Trump International Hotel Panama and replace the Trump Organization as its manager. Fintiklis blames Trump’s brand and Trump’s company for declining revenue and empty rooms.

So far, his tactics had been confined to lawsuits and angry letters.

That changed on Thursday, when Fintiklis and a group of others arrived at the hotel, seeking to deliver letters of termination to the staff. That caused at least one confrontation, which included yelling but no physical altercation, according to a Trump Organization official. The police came, the Trump Organization official said, but did not allow Fintiklis to eject the staff.

At one point, the hotel’s power was turned off, apparently by an ally of Fintiklis, the Trump official said. The power has been restored.

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Fintiklis failed to get the Trump employees to leave. Later, his attorney told local reporters that Fintiklis had asked a Panamanian court to issue an order allowing him into the hotel to try to eject the Trump Organization’s employees.

There was no sign he had obtained a court order or a judge’s decision before Thursday’s confrontation at the hotel.

“I was not allowed to have a room in my own hotel,” Fintiklis wrote in a legal complaint that his attorney showed to local reporters, according to a report from the Spanish news service EFE. He complained that Trump hotel employees used “intimidation, threats.”

Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, responded with an emailed statement. “We have always been happy to resolve our differences in a civil and professional manner,” he wrote. “The acts by ownership over the last few days however have been pure thuggery.”

By Saturday night, the hotel lobby was quiet: The police were gone, and tourists and residents circulated as usual.

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The Trump hotel in Panama is a “hotel condominium” — in essence, its hotel rooms are owned individually by investors, and the owners collectively contract with Trump to manage them.

The dispute began in November, when Fintiklis — whose firm had bought 202 of the hotel’s 369 units last year, and who now heads the condo owners’ association — sought to terminate the Trump Organization as the hotel’s managers. The Trump Organization’s contract won’t be up until 2031.

But Fintiklis argued that Trump’s company had effectively broken the terms of its contract by allowing the hotel to fall into poor condition, and for allowing its occupancy rate to decline rapidly. Owners in the hotel have confirmed that the hotel seems to be losing business, noting that their individual shares of the revenue have declined — or even disappeared.

They said part of the problem was Trump’s unpopularity in Latin America.

“It’s a bloodbath, basically. It’s a financial bloodbath,” Jeffrey Rabiea, a New York businessman who owns three hotel rooms in the Trump Panama hotel, said last month. “Nobody wants to go there. If you’ve got a Marriott and a Hyatt and a Trump, you’re not going to Trump.”

The dispute spawned lawsuits in New York and Delaware, and an international arbitration case — all initiated by Fintiklis or his attorneys. None of them seem close to a conclusion.

The Trump hotel in Panama is located in a soaring building shaped like a billowing sail. It also includes residential condominium units — which were also once managed by the Trump Organization. Those owners rebelled several years ago, and now the residential units are managed by another company.

Since President Trump won the 2016 election, his name has come off three of the Trump Organization’s luxury hotels. But none of those cases produced this kind of confrontation.

The Trump Organization itself pulled out of a troubled hotel in Rio de Janeiro, and it negotiated agreements to withdraw from Trump hotels in Toronto and Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

The Toronto and SoHo hotels, like the one in Panama, were owned by others but managed by the Trump Organization for a fee.

In his 2017 financial disclosures, Trump reported that his company took in $810,000 in management fees from the Panama hotel over the previous 15 1/ months.