Trump Organisation lawyers say they didn't seek to 'pressure' Panama president in hotel controversy

  • Lawyers representing the Trump Organisation responded to news of a controversial letter they sent Panama’s president regarding a dispute between President Donald Trump’s namesake business and a hotel owner.
  • The law firm, Britton & Iglesias, said it “categorically” rejects the idea that it sought to pressure Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.
  • The firm said “nobody at Trump Organisation was aware of the letter until today.”

Lawyers representing President Donald Trump’s namesake company on Monday responded to news reports detailing a letter the firm sent to Panama’s president, pushing back at the categorization of it as a pressure point in the business dispute.

Earlier Monday, The Associated Press reported on the letter, saying lawyers at Britton & Iglesias appealed directly to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela president for help in a dispute over a luxury Panama City hotel.

The firm, representing the Trump Organisation, asked Varela to intervene in the legal dispute, arguing that the courts denied the Trump Organisation due process and violated a bilateral treaty. The AP reported that the letter also warned of consequences for Panama if he didn’t.

Britton & Iglesias said in a statement provided to Business Insider by the Trump Organisation they “categorically reject” the idea they sought to pressure Varela and that “nobody at Trump Organisation was aware of the letter until today.”

The firm said it sent a letter to representatives of Panama’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government to warn of “possible violations of the Investment Protection Treaty, which could be derived by the actions taken by some owners of the hotel units, and that, in our opinion, could result in a possible ‘procedural fraud.'”

“We categorically reject any assumption or assertion that the letter sought to ‘pressure’ the President of the Republic of Panama or any other official of the government of Panama,” the firm said. “The drafting of this type of letter to the Governments in matters of International Investment Arbitration (ICSID) is very common, and was sent as part of our legal representation of Trump Panama Hotel Management, LLC.”

They called the drafting of the letter “such a routine matter” that they did not feel the need to seek “the authorization of Trump Organisation for its delivery.”

Panama’s vice president and foreign secretary, Isabel Saint Malo, said her office was copied on the letter, which she described as urging the executive branch “to interfere in an issue clearly of the judicial branch.”

The hotel dispute is one of the first tests of Trump’s conflicts of interest

The hotel dispute gained notoriety in February when Orestes Fintiklis, the majority owner of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, arrived with associates in the lobby with the aim of ousting the Trump Organisation, which had managed the hotel since its 2011 opening.

The organisation, however, refused to leave. Over the next few days, police were called to the property to “keep the peace,”the AP reported. And after Fintiklis and his associates delivered termination notices to Trump Organisation employees at the hotel, witnesses said they saw Trump executives moving files to a room to be shredded.

Fintiklis wanted to drop the Trump name from the building and argued in court documents that the Trump Organisation’s mismanagement caused occupancy levels to drop while expenses rose. Fintiklis claimed victory last month, saying Panamanian authorities allowed him to take over the hotel’s administration.

“Today, this dispute has been settled by the judges and the authorities of this country,” Fintiklis said.

The hotel has since been renamed the Bahia Grand.

On March 27, a US arbitrator ruled that the Trump Organisation shouldn’t have been evicted while arbitration was ongoing, though he did not reinstate the hotel’s management.

Instead of divesting himself of his businesses or placing them into a blind trust before taking office, Trump passed control to his two sons and a senior Trump Organisation executive – a move ethics experts said did not go far enough in addressing potential conflicts of interest.

Experts told Business Insider last month that Panama provided an example of such a conflict.

“The president can obviously have a great impact on American foreign policy toward Panama,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Business Insider in March. “How could this affect that? We don’t know, but it’s not good that we have to ask.”

Any US decision affecting Panama will be under the microscope, said Larry Noble, the senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.

“It could be a trade deal, it could be aid of some sort, it could be a rule involving the Panama Canal,” Noble said.

He added: “This is a good example of what a presidential conflict of interest looks like.”

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