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Trump Company Lawyers Asked Panama President for Help in Hotel Dispute

April 10, 2018

In a statement, Britton and Iglesias denied that the letter “sought to ‘pressure’ the President of the Republic of Panama or any other official of the government of Panama.” The law firm said the letter was “very common” in international arbitration matters, and was “such a routine matter for our firm” that the Trump Organization had not been made aware of it until this week. In response to a request for comment, the Trump Organization on Tuesday forwarded the Panamanian law firm’s statement.

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The first page of a three-page letter sent to President Juan Carlos Varela by lawyers representing the Trump Organization.Credit Associated Press

The office of President Varela’s spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday, referring inquiries to the Foreign Ministry. In a statement, the ministry said the letter dealt with “a purely commercial issue.”

“Differences arose between two companies, and the case was handled by the judiciary,” the ministry’s statement said. “It is not a bilateral issue between governments, much less political.”

The struggle over management of the hotel erupted late last year when the majority owner sought to fire the Trump hotel company, which had been managing the property under a long-term contract. The Trump firm resisted and the matter went to international arbitration and moved into the courts in Panama, New York and Delaware.

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In early March, amid a several-day — and occasionally violent — standoff between Trump employees and the majority owner, Orestes Fintiklis, a Panamanian court authorized a change of administration. Police officers escorted Trump managers out of the building, workers promptly removed the Trump name from the property and Mr. Fintiklis renamed the hotel the Bahia Grand Panama, even peppering a new bar menu with sarcastically named drinks aimed at President Trump.

In their March 22 letter to Mr. Varela, the lawyers for the Trump hotel management firm said the judiciary’s handling of the case had been rife with violations of due process and had therefore crossed a 1983 investment treaty between the United States and Panama.

The lawyers requested that Mr. Varela use his “good offices” lest his government be blamed for what they called “the damages that this excessively bad administration of justice is causing.”

Several other legal matters related to the dispute remain to be resolved, including arbitration on damages.

Ben Protess contributed reporting from New York.

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