Trump’s name stripped from Panama hotel as showdown appears to end

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Owner Orestes Fintiklis celebrated March 5, claiming he had successfully wrested control of a hotel in Panama City from the Trump Organization. (Ana Currud/for The Washington Post)

Workers began removing the Trump name from the only Trump-branded hotel in Latin America on Monday after the majority owner of the Trump Panama hotel won a legal battle to eject the president’s company as its manager.

In early afternoon, a worker hooked a crowbar behind the “T” in the large “Trump” sign outside the hotel along Panama City’s waterfront and hit the crowbar with a hammer. After a few blows, the letter was pried loose and fell.

In about a minute, the worker had removed the entire name. For the third time since Inauguration Day, the Trump brand was coming down from a hotel.

Earlier Monday, majority owner Orestes Fintiklis — a Cypriot businessman now based in Miami — said that a Panamanian legal official had allowed him to take over the hotel’s administration.

The legal official had visited the hotel that morning with a police escort. The official did not say anything to reporters on the scene, so the exact nature of her decision was not clear.

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After the official’s decision, Fintiklis said he had won a weeks-long legal battle with the Trump Organization, which he blames for the hotel’s declining revenue and low occupancy rates.

“Today, this dispute has been settled by the judges and the authorities of this country,” Fintiklis told reporters. He declared that he was so impressed by Panama’s legal system that he would soon become a Panamanian citizen himself.

If it wasn’t the end of the standoff at the Trump hotel, it seemed at least to be a turning point. For the past week, this 70-story building in Panama’s capital — designed to resemble a billowing sail — has been the scene of shoving matches between rival security guards, repeated visits by police, power outages and reports of documents being shredded.

Now, for the first time, Fintiklis seemed in control.

“And now, as you guessed it, I will play the piano,” Fintiklis told a crowd of reporters. He then began to play a tune on the piano in the hotel lobby, repeating a ritual that he had used to mark previous victories in the case. This time, he played what he said was a traditional Greek song, “Accordeon,” an anti-fascist anthem, and he sang along in Greek.

The apparent end of the Trump Panama hotel illustrated how — in some areas — Trump’s divisive presidency appears to have damaged the fortunes of his businesses. Trump’s businesses were often built to attract residents of coastal U.S. cities and foreign countries. Then, as a politician, Trump often sought to turn coastal elites and foreign governments into political boogeymen.

Since Donald Trump took office, his name and his company have also been removed from Trump hotels in Toronto and Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. In both of those cases, however, Trump’s company reached a quiet, amicable settlement with the hotel’s owners.

In Panama, Fintiklis chose a more confrontational route.

The Trump hotel in Panama opened in 2011. The president’s company does not own the building, but it had a contract to manage the hotel until 2031.

Fintiklis bought 202 of the hotel’s 369 room units last year, assumed control of the hotel’s condominium owners association and quickly moved to kick out the Trump Organization.

“We are ALL losing money and it is getting worse. The only ill-deserved winner here is the [Trump Organization] who continues to clip management fees whilst our hotel is driven into the ground,” Fintiklis wrote in a letter to fellow hotel-room owners earlier this year.

He noted that, in 58 units, the owners had lost so much money on rentals that they were refusing to pay their condo fees.

The Trump Organization refused to leave the property, saying Fintiklis had no legal grounds to break its contract. Their dispute spawned a lawsuit in New York and an international arbitration case.

Fintiklis escalated the fight in late February, when he showed up in Panama and sought to fire the Trump management in person. That tactic failed, at first — Trump staffers refused to allow him in, and Fintiklis played a mournful tune in the lobby in protest.

The Trump Organization responded that Fintiklis had ignored previous legal cases and resorted instead to “mob-style” tactics.

“The acts by ownership over the last few days . . . have been pure thuggery,” Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten said last week.

The White House has not responded to inquiries. It has not disclosed whether President Trump had been briefed on the dispute or whether he had spoken to anyone in Panama about the fate of his business.

Trump said he gave up day-to-day control of his businesses, including the Panama hotel, when he became president. But he still owns these businesses, and he can withdraw money from them at any time.

In his last financial disclosures, Trump reported that his company had made about $810,000 in management fees from the Panama hotel in the preceding 15 months.

Fahrenthold reported from Washington.





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