Police called after brawl in dispute over Trump Panama hotel
By JEFF HORWITZ and JUAN ZAMORANO
Feb. 28, 2018
PANAMA CITY (AP) — Rival teams of security guards grappled in a stairwell Tuesday as a business dispute for control over the Trump luxury hotel in Panama mounted.
Cellphone video of the confrontation obtained by The Associated Press showed a security official working for President Donald Trump's family hotel business screaming "Out!" in Spanish as condo owners attempted to enter a room filled with computer equipment.
Men in suits wrestled in a stairway before a large man aligned with the Trump Hotel team slapped the phone out of the hand of the person recording the confrontation.
Panama City police responded to calls about the scuffle, which took place in an area belonging to a condo association that operates independently of the hotel but shares the building. One of Trump's guards was escorted by police off the property after the incident, though not arrested, according to officers on the scene.
The video was provided to the AP by a person opposed to Trump who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for being drawn into current and future litigation over the property.
The minor brawl — it marked at least the fourth time the police have been called to the property in the last week — is part of a bitter fight over Trump Hotels' contract to manage a 70-story luxury high rise on Panama's waterfront. Led by Miami-based private equity fund Ithaca Capital, the owners of the condo-hotel units voted to remove Trump's name from the building and fire his hotel management company.
Ithaca's manager, Orestes Fintiklis, has alleged financial misconduct by Trump Hotels dating back years, and has said Trump's statements on immigration have rendered his brand toxic in Latin America.
Trump Hotels has refused to acknowledge its termination, citing a commitment by Fintiklis not to challenge Trump's contract when he bought 202 of the 369 hotel units at the property last year. When Fintinklis, who is also head of the hotel owners' association, invited a team of Marriott hotel executives to tour the property last year, Trump Hotel staff ran them off.
The dispute over whether the president's company can be fired has already led to legal complaints in Panama, the United States and private arbitration. But the arbitration has not progressed significantly in months, with the two sides deadlocked over the selection of the arbitration panel.
The already tense situation deteriorated last week after Fintiklis attempted to fire hotel managers loyal to Trump. According to two witnesses, private security blocked Fintiklis from delivering the pink slips, and refused to let him check into one of his firm's 202 hotel rooms or eat in the property's restaurant.
On Tuesday, Fintiklis' lawyer told the AP that Fintiklis was physically and verbally abused by "gorillas" working for Trump.
"We are going to ask for a police search," attorney Sarai Blaisdell told the AP.
Fintiklis himself filed a complaint with Panamanian police on Friday, alleging that he was blocked from his property and that he and others witnessed Trump staff shredding business records after hours, something Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten flatly denied.
The Panamanian ministry said on Monday it was investigating Fintiklis' complaint that Trump is illegally refusing to vacate his property.
In a statement issued Monday, Trump Hotels accused Fintiklis of using a "rogue private security team" to "physically take over the management of the Hotel."
According to witnesses and the video obtained by AP, a room containing the hotels' closed circuit television system and various servers was a key point of conflict both over the weekend and on Tuesday. On Friday, Trump staff locked themselves inside the room — it is located on the condominium owners association's property — the condo association cut power to the room, inadvertently killing the hotel's phone and internet connection. Power was restored to those systems later Friday evening.
Separately, police escorted Panamanian labor ministry staff to the property on Tuesday. The purpose of their visit could not immediately be ascertained.
Horwitz reported from Washington.