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Latin America

Judge in Panama accuses Trump lawyers of intimidation and threats

A dispute over the hotel's management continues to spin out of control in Panama after President Trump's company was evicted from the five-star property in early March.
15 Mar 2018 – 04:33 PM EDT
Un trabajador destruye el logo de Trump del hotel en disputa tras ser desalojada la administración a cargo de la organización Trump el pasado 5 de marzo. Crédito: Arnulfo Franco/AP

A judge involved in a bitter legal dispute over a Trump hotel in Panama has accused lawyers for Trump's management team of intimidating and threatening behavior after she made a ruling unfavorable to the interests of the company, part of President Donald Trump's family business.

Last week Trump's hotel management company was evicted by a judge's order from running the five-star Trump International Hotel in Panama City, housed in a 70-story condo tower overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Owners of the hotel have since renamed it The Bahia Grand Panama, though Trump's hotel group is contesting the judge's order alleging it was illegal.

The case is part of a long running battle for management control of the landmark hotel which opened to great fanfare in 2011 as the first Trump real estate venture in Latin America. Trump attended the opening, along with his children, Ivanka, Donald Jr and Eric.

Owners of the condo-style hotel, which has 369 units, accused Trump Hotels of "horrific mismangement" and are suing for $15 million damages. The Trumps originally countersued for $150 million alleging "an unlawful coup" and breach of contract, though they dropped the amount to $9 million last week. The dispute is currently in arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce.

Magistrate judge, Marisol Carrera, made the allegation in a sworn deposition to Panama's anti-corruption prosecutor's office earlier this month, after the two lawyers, Eric Vargas and Lourdes Guerra, came to her office in Panama City and shouted insults in front of numerous witnesses, according to court documents. "I had to put up with the disrespect of these two people, I felt intimidated and threatened," she told prosecutors.

Vargas is a lawyer with Britton & Iglesias, the Panamanian law firm representing Trump Panama Hotel Management, which is part of the Trump Organization. Guerra was hired to represent Trump's general manager of the hotel, Carlos Abaunza, who was fired by the owners.

In a statement lawyers for Trump Hotel Management denied the judge's allegation calling it "false and tendentious information." Instead, it said the lawyers went to the judge's office, accompanied by a notary, to seek access to legal documents related to a police raid of the hotel the day before which they considered to be a "violation of due process." The statement added: "The lawyers were never disrespectful or rude, nor did we make any type of threats or intimidation."

The lawyers subsequently filed a complaint against the judge, asking for her to be disciplined.

The alleged incident took place March 1, the day after Abaunza was fired by the hotel owners, along with three other hotel staff, for blocking access to the hotel adminstration offices. Video of the scuffle in the hotel offices, involving armed police in tactical gear, went viral.

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Momento en el que guardias de seguridad del Hotel Trump en Panamá no dejan entrar a las autoridades

A few days later another judge ordered Trump management to abandon the hotel and the Trump sign outside was removed. Since then staff have removed all Trump branded room items, from bathrobes to pens, soap and bottles of mouthwash.

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