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Latin America & Caribbean

Trump Organization evicted from management of Panama hotel

A judge in Panama on Monday ended Trump's management of its first real estate venture in Latin America, the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower. Workers quickly removed the 'Trump' name from a sign outside the entrance.
5 Mar 2018 – 02:50 PM EST
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The Trump Organization was evicted Monday from management of the Trump Ocean Club Hotel in Panama after a judge entered the property with an armed police escort, in the latest blow to President Trump's long list of failed real estate ventures in Latin America.

A couple hours later, a worker removed the silver letters 'T-R-U-M-P' from a large sign at the entrance to the hotel, pulling each letter off with a crowbar and small sledgehammer.

Standing in the hotel lobby, Orestes Finitklis, the majority owner of the 70-story luxury condominium hotel, declared: "Today Panama has made us proud."

While lamenting how the commercial dispute had "spun out of control," he added: "today this dispute has been settled by the judges and the authorities of this country."

Fintiklis, the 39-year-old, Cyprus-born, Miami-based founder of private equity fund Ithaca Capital, celebrated his apparent victory by playing a popular Greek folk song, ‘Accordeon,’ about the fight against fascism, on the hotel sky lobby piano.

A couple hours later, a worker removed the silver letters 'T-R-U-M-P' from a large sign at the entrance to the hotel, pulling each letter off with a crowbar and small sledgehammer.

Monday’s court victory appeared to have put the hotel completely under the control of Ithaca Capital, which owns 202 of the 369 rooms, as well as the hotel’s conference center and restaurants. It came weeks after the hotel owners’ association voted to terminate the management contract with Trump, complaining of poor marketing, declining occupancy and revenue.

It was not clear on Monday if Trump Hotels planned to appeal the judge’s order, which came seven years after the hotel opened to great fanfare in a ribbon-cutting attended by Trump, three of his children, and the president of Panama. The hotel's distinctive sail-like design dominates the Pacific coast skyline of Panama City, but competes with several other luxury chains that have saturated the local market.

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Trump Hotels is a division of the Trump Organization, the holding company for all of President Trump business ventures. After becoming president, he declined to divest himself of his corporate assets and instead placed management of his affairs in the hands of his children.

The two sides are currently locked in a legal arbitration battle in which Fintiklis and Ithaca Capital are suing Trump in New York court for $15 million alleging “horrific” mismanagement of the hotel. Trump has counter-sued for $150 million.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Trump Hotels recognized that it no longer was running the hotel, but insisted that the status of its management agreement remained intact. It said a third party administrator had been appointed "to maintain the status quo," while the arbitration process goes on.

"Trump Hotels remains fully confident that it will not only prevail, but recover all of its damages, costs and attorneys’ fees, including those damages, costs and attorneys’ fees arising from today’s events," it stated.

The hotel feud came to a sudden climax on Monday morning when a second circuit civil court judge, Miriam Cheng de Aguilar, entered the hotel with a dozen armed police, some wearing bullet proof vests, also accompanied by lawyers for the owners - and a locksmith.

A number of imposing Trump security guards blocked access to the hotel offices on the 15th floor for several minutes, as the judge knocked on the door demanding to be let in.

After some pushing and shoving, the judge was eventually let in. A short while later the Trump security team vanished, leaving behind half-eaten sandwiches. Several hotel employees were seen leaving the premises after turning in their staff badges. Lawyers say 10 employees were fired for resisting the termination notice filed by Ithaca Capital.

Fintiklis and his legal team later entered the hotel offices unopposed. An order was overheard to change the locks.

In a statement last week, Trump Hotels accused Fintiklis of using “thug-like, mob-style” tactics to take over the hotel. The statement accused Fintiklis and his legal team of being engaged in “an unlawful corporate take-over,” according to court documents.

In court documents Fintiklis argued that that Trump Organization had no business resisting his access to the hotel offices as the owners had terminated the Trump management contract.

The Trump Organization “continues to clip management fees whilst our hotel is driven into the ground,” he added, comparing the president's company to “a leech draining our last drop of blood.”

Ithaca Capital is comprised of a dozen wealthy investors who bought the hotel units last year out of bankrupcy for $25 million. Fintiklis and several of his U.S. investors say they were Trump supporters during his election campaign. Some of them voted for Trump, and donated to his campaign. Fintiklis did not vote for Trump as he is not a U.S. citizen.

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

The Trump name was also removed from residential towers in New York after hundreds of tenants signed a petition demanding its removal.

The Trump Hotel's website was not offering direct bookings at the hotel Monday afternoon. "We apologize," the site said. "There are no available rooms for your requested stay.