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Complaint Claims Trump Lawyers Threatened Panama Magistrate


FILE - A man removes the word Trump off a marquee outside the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, March 5, 2018.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump's family hotel business threatened a Panamanian judicial official handling a dispute related to Trump Hotels' management of a 70-story luxury hotel, according to a complaint filed with the anti-corruption division of Panama's chief prosecutor.

The complaint reviewed by The Associated Press said lawyers from the firm representing Trump's hotel management business accosted a justice of the peace, Marisol Carrera, in her office after she ruled against Trump's business on a minor issue in the fight over control of the Trump-branded luxury hotel. The abuse continued, she wrote, even after she called police to defuse the situation.

Trump's lawyers dispute the claims, and the magistrate declined to discuss the matter with the AP.

The episode marks another odd turn in the feud over the Trump International Hotel on Panama City's waterfront. Trump's team was eventually evicted from the hotel, which was stripped of his name and reopened under new management. But the battle continues in court.

Trump stepped away from running his business interests after becoming president in January 2017 but he still owns them. On a day-to-day basis, they are managed by his children and longtime executives.

The behavior described in Carrera's complaint occurred during the time Miami-based private equity investor Orestes Fintiklis was vying for control of the hotel, located within a high-rise that also contains a casino and a condo association.

The magistrate was not involved in the main hotel dispute, but ruled against Trump's interests in a fight over control of the office containing the hotel's closed-circuit security system.

Trump's lawyers from the Panama City law firm of Britton & Iglesias berated her and her staff in her office, she said.

"I felt intimidated and threatened," wrote Carrera, who handles basic legal matters and disputes as part of her job as justice of the peace for Panama City's government.

Trump's attorneys in Panama denied any misconduct.

"The lawyers were never disrespectful, nor rude, nor did we make any sort of threats nor intimidation like the kind we are falsely accused of," the firm said in a statement. The statement said the firm's attorneys had not been given timely access to documents related to the dispute by Carrera's office and simply demanded them in the presence of a notary hired to document the interaction.

Panamanian anticorruption officials declined to comment.

The Trump Organization's general counsel, Alan Garten, did not respond to an email or telephone messages inquiring about the magistrate's complaint.

In 2015, condo residents voted overwhelmingly to oust Trump's company from its job as building manager, but Trump's hotel contract remained in place.

After an investment fund run by Fintiklis bought out a majority of the hotel last year, he and other hotel unit owners voted to terminate Trump Hotels' management contract, alleging financial misconduct and ineffectiveness.

Arbitration over the dispute stalled. Fintiklis, who heads the hotel owners association, escalated the battle last month by attempting to hand-deliver termination notices to Trump's team.

What followed was a 12-day scramble in which Fintiklis' lawyers alleged Trump's team barricaded doors on the property and Trump's team claimed "thug-like, mob style tactics" on the part of Fintiklis and his allies. Amid repeated skirmishes by rival security teams, police in riot gear were sometimes called in to restore order.

One flashpoint centered on control of the hotel's closed-circuit security system, housed in part of the building the hotel does not own.

When managers of the condo association attempted to enter the office, which contained both the hotel's security monitors and electronics equipment key to the building's operation, the Trump security staff refused to let them enter. Video obtained by the AP shows that, after building staff disabled the lock on the office door, rival teams of security guards ended up grappling in a stairwell. Police were called.

The building's overall owners association, which has generally been aligned with the hotel owners seeking to oust Trump, sought legal help from Carrera's office to regain control of the office.

Carrera approved an order requiring the Trump staff to leave.

After Carrera visited the property and issued her ruling, Trump's staff vacated the office, taking their closed-circuit TV equipment with them.

Carrera's complaint said the encounter with Trump's attorneys occurred a few days after her ruling when they came to her office to retrieve case files related to the dispute.

According to the magistrate's assistant, who also submitted an official statement, the lawyers berated Carrera and called her biased.

"Emotions boiled over and the judge intervened calling for order over the shouts of both sides," notary Gisela Edith Dudley de Lau wrote, though she did not describe any threats made in her presence. The notary wrote she had been called in because the Trump lawyers were frustrated they had not yet received access to case files, though they eventually received the records.

Horwitz reported from Washington and Stevenson from Mexico City. Associated Press writer Chris Sherman in Mexico City also contributed to this report.

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