June 20, 2018
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Trump Panama hotel showdown appears to end, and the Trump name is coming down

Arnulfo Franco | AP
Arnulfo Franco | AP
A man cleans a marquee were the word Trump was removed, outside the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, Monday, March 5, 2018. Escorted by police officers and a Panamanian judicial official, the owner of the Trump Panama City hotel has taken control of the property. A team of Trump security officials left the property.
Ana Currud and David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post

PANAMA CITY – The majority owner of President Donald Trump’s only hotel in Latin America said Monday that Panamanian authorities had allowed him to take over management of the hotel – ejecting the Trump Organization, after a weeklong standoff over control of the property.

Orestes Fintiklis, a Cypriot businessman now based in Miami, said that a Panamanian legal official – who visited the hotel with a contingent of police on Monday – had allowed him to take over the hotel’s administration.

The legal official herself did not say anything to reporters on the scene, so the exact nature of her decision was not clear. The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But, in a brief press conference at the hotel, Fintiklis appeared to believe he had won a legal battle with the Trump Organization, which he blames for the hotel’s declining revenues and low occupancy rates.

“Today, this dispute has been settled by the judges and the authorities of this country,” Fintiklis told reporters. He declared that he was so impressed by Panama’s legal system that he would soon become a Panamanian citizen himself.

If it wasn’t the end of the standoff at the Trump hotel, it seemed at least to be a turning point. For the past week, this 70-story building in Panama’s capital – designed to resemble a billowing sail – has been the scene of shoving matches between rival security guards, repeated visits by police, power outages, and reports of documents being shredded.

Now, for the first time, Fintiklis seemed in control.

“And now, as you guessed it, I will play the piano,” Fintiklis told a crowd of reporters. He then began to play a tune on the piano in the hotel lobby, repeating a ritual that he had used to mark previous victories in the case. This time, he played what he said was a traditional Greek song, “Accordeon,” an anti-fascist anthem, and he sang along in Greek.

The Trump hotel in Panama opened in 2011. The president’s company doesn’t own the building, but it had a contract to manage the hotel until 2031.

Fintiklis bought 202 of the hotel’s 369 room units last year, assumed control of the hotel’s condominium owners association, and quickly moved to kick the Trump Organization out.

“We are ALL losing money and it is getting worse. The only ill-deserved winner here is the [Trump Organization] who continues to clip management fees whilst our hotel is driven into the ground,” Fintiklis wrote in a letter to fellow hotel-room owners earlier this year.

He noted that, in 58 units, the owners had lost so much money on rentals that they were refusing to pay their condo fees.

The Trump Organization refused to leave the property, saying Fintiklis had no legal grounds to break its contract. Their dispute spawned a lawsuit in New York, and an international arbitration case.

Fintiklis escalated the fight in late February, when he showed up in Panama and sought to fire the Trump management in person. That tactic failed, at first – Trump staffers refused to allow him in, and Fintiklis played a mournful tune in the lobby in protest.

The Trump Organization responded that Fintiklis had ignored existing legal cases, and resorted instead to “mob-style” tactics.

“The acts by ownership over the last few days … have been pure thuggery,” Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten said last week.

The White House has not responded to inquiries. It has not disclosed whether Trump had been briefed on the dispute, or if he had spoken to anyone in Panama about the fate of his business.

Trump said he gave up day-to-day control of his businesses, including the Panama hotel, when he became president. But he still owns these businesses, and he can withdraw money from them at any time.

Fintiklis appears to want to take down the Trump name, and re-brand the property as something else. If he does, this would be the fourth Trump-branded hotel to lose the name since Trump won the 2016 election, following hotels in Rio de Janeiro, Toronto and lower Manhattan.

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