Did President Trump play politics over his former Panama hotel?

The Bahia Grand Panama, formerly the Trump International Hotel and Tower Panama. Photo credit: Bahia Grand Panama (A newly-released letter shows lawyers from the Trump Organization appealing directly to the president of Panama days before the Trump management team was ousted at its Panama City location.)

Lawyers from the Trump Organization appealed directly to the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, in the days before the Trump management team was ousted at its Panama City location.

Britton & Iglesias, a Panamanian law firm representing the Trump Organization in its bid to remain in control of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Panama, reached out to Varela in a letter dated March 22. The hotel’s new management team provided a copy of the letter to the Associated Press, wherein Britton & Iglesias maintain that the Trump Organization was denied due process in Panama’s courts, violating a bilateral treaty.

Information provided by the Associated Press states the letter to Varela reads its “URGENTLY requests his influence in relation to a commercial dispute involving Trump Hotel aired before Panama's judiciary. It also states the decision to evict the Trump Organization from the building is in violation of the Bilateral Investment Treaty, suggesting the government of Panama could be held accountable for the eviction.

"We appreciate your influence in order to avoid that these damages are attributed not to the other party, but to the Panamanian government," the letter reads.

In a decision made March 27, an arbitrator ruled that Trump Hotels should not have been removed from the property while arbitration remained ongoing with the hotel’s ownership group, but declined to reinstate Trump Hotels’ management team.

Trump Hotels was removed from the property on March 5 after a battle between the hotel’s management and its owner’s association. Majority owner Orestes Fintiklis had been lobbying for the removal of the Trump name since December 2017, claiming “gross mismanagement, breaches of contract, conversion (or the misuse of property for someone else’s gain) and breaches of fiduciary duties.” The ensuing power struggle led to the Trump hotel hiring an independent security firm, conflicting letters sent from both parties to hotel employees, a visit from a rival hotel company and a filmed scuffle outside of the property’s surveillance room.

In the end, the government of Panama stepped in and control of the property was shifted March 5. Today, it is known as the Bahia Grand Panama. Despite the name change, both parties continue to battle over who violate the hotel management contract, and the March 27 statement that the case should never have gone to court is likely to complicate matters.

The situation is also calling into question whether or not the president of the U.S. should be able to contact the president of another country to settle private business matters, in this case pointing to a treaty signed by both parties. The letter was also copied to Panamanian cabinet members, presidents of the country’s Supreme Court, members of its National Assembly and more. A headline on the front page of Panama’s La Prensa newspaper Monday read “Trump Organization Pressures Varela.” This begs the question, will there be consequences for the country if the Trump name stays off the Bahia Grand?