World News

Tempers Flare as Panama Hotel Owners Try to Oust Trump Company

Posted February 26, 2018 8:27 p.m. EST

MEXICO CITY — A bitter struggle between a Trump Organization hotel business and the owners of the Panama City hotel that carries the Trump name escalated Monday when the Panamanian authorities announced that they had begun a formal investigation into the dispute.

The country’s Public Ministry said in a brief statement that it was looking into whether there had been any “punishable conduct” in the matter. The decision came in response to a complaint filed with the ministry Friday accusing Trump executives of illegal “encroachment” on the property, the ministry’s statement said.

The owners association has been trying for months to dump President Donald Trump’s company, which manages the property, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, blaming the Trump company and brand for declining revenues.

The Trump Organization’s involvement in the hotel began well before the property officially opened in 2011. But Orestes Fintiklis, a Miami-based investor whose firm bought a majority of the hotel’s units last year, has led the charge to drive it out. The owners association voted last year to end its relationship with the Trump company, and the sides entered into arbitration in October.

The fight intensified last Thursday, when Fintiklis, managing partner of Ithaca Capital Partners, appeared at the property to hand-deliver termination notices to four managers, The Associated Press reported.

The Trump Organization staff called the police and barred the owners’ group from entering a room containing the building’s computer servers and closed-circuit television system, AP said. In response, the news agency reported, the owners’ group shut off power to the room, which also cut phone lines and internet connections throughout the building.

A legal complaint filed by Fintiklis accused the Trump team of improperly destroying documents during the standoff.

In a statement Monday, Trump Hotels, a division of the Trump Organization, accused Fintiklis of using strong-arm tactics by deploying “a rogue private security team” to take over the hotel.

Fintiklis and another owner, the statement said, employed “thuglike, mob-style tactics, repeatedly attempting to force their way into Trump Hotels’ offices, infiltrate and disrupt its computer systems and threatening and intimidating any employee of the hotel that resisted.”

Trump Hotels also said that Fintiklis, by seeking to drive out the Trump Organization, had violated the terms of his purchase last year. Before closing on that deal, which involved 202 of the hotel’s 369 units, Fintiklis signed an agreement saying “he would not in any way attempt to interfere with Trump’s management of the hotel or take any other steps to terminate its management agreement,” the statement said.

The Trump company also seemed to taunt Fintiklis, suggesting that he had given up on arbitration because he was annoyed or running out of money. “Sadly, it now appears as though Mr. Fintiklis has either lost patience with the pace of the proceedings which he commenced or simply lacks the financial backing he once claimed he had,” the statement said.

Messages left for Fintiklis at Ithaca Capital Partners were not returned.

Since Trump took office, his name has been removed from hotels in Toronto and in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, though both changes came through negotiated buyouts and the Trump Organization did not resist.

The Trump name was also wiped from a set of residential towers on the West Side of Manhattan after hundreds of tenants signed a petition demanding its removal. In explaining their decision, the owners said they sought “to assume a neutral building identity that appeals to all current and future residents.”