Fight heats up between Trump Organization and hotel owner in Panama

The majority owner of a Trump-branded hotel in Panama alleges the Trump Organization misled the property’s staff, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

The letter is the latest twist in a four-month battle between the Trump Organization, which licensed its brand to the project about 10 years ago, and Miami-based investor Orestes Fintiklis, who bought the hotel’s amenities and a majority of the units last year.

Fintiklis, who controls the company that owns the hotel, has been trying to remove the brand and terminate a management agreement with Trump because the property has “steadily been losing market share and stands in last place among its peer luxury hotels in all the relevant metrics for success in the hotel industry,” according to a lawsuit Fintiklis’ investment company filed against two of Trump’s companies in January. Fintiklis also claims in the lawsuit that a decline in occupancy “has had and continues to have a direct impact on the hotel’s bottom line.”

“Since buying his units less (than) a few months ago, he [Fintiklis] has breached virtually every contractual provision he agreed to, including the provision that prohibits him from taking any steps to terminate our management contract without court order,” said the Trump Organization’s attorney, Alan Garten. “Under the hotel management agreement, we have the sole and exclusive right to supervise, hire and fire every single employee.”

The two sides have been locked in arbitration and lawsuits since October, according to the lawsuit. The disagreement boiled over last week when Fintiklis’ attorney said Fintiklis tried to enter the hotel to deliver dismissal notices to employees but was denied entry to the hotel’s administrative offices, according to a report by a Spanish language news agency. Garten confirmed that Fintiklis was denied access to the hotel’s administrative office, but declined to comment further.

The Trump Organization has “been lying to you, using you and putting your employment and the Hotel at grave risk,” said Fintiklis in a letter sent to hotel employees Sunday. “You have fallen victims to a horrible lie which is now costing the jobs of some of you.”

If Fintiklis is successful in removing the brand and terminating the management contract with Trump, the property would become the third Trump-branded project to shed the President’s name since he was elected. In June, the owner of Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto reached a deal to end its contract with the Trump Organization. A Trump-brand building in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood struck a similar arrangement in November.

The Trump International Hotel and Tower Panama — a massive 70-story building in the shape of a sail that includes residential units, a casino, and residential and office space — has been mired in controversy and has been struggling for years, according to media reports. In 2017, Fintiklis’ investment company bought 202 of the 369 units along with the hotel’s amenities from lenders and the original developer, according to the lawsuit.

Trump’s management agreement, which was signed in 2008, remained in effect despite the change in ownership, according to papers filed in the lawsuit.