PANAMA CITY — Lawyers representing President Trump’s company wrote directly to the president of Panama last month, asking him to intervene in a legal dispute over the Trump International Hotel in the capital.

The law firm, Panama-based Britton and Iglesias, wrote to President Juan Carlos Varela on March 22 to “urgently request your influence in relation to a commercial dispute regarding the Trump hotel.”

The letter, which says that the dispute could have “repercussions” for the reputation of the Panamanian state, marks a remarkable warning by the president’s company to the leader of a U.S. ally. It does not explicitly reference Trump or threaten any actions by the U.S. government. The letter speaks refers to his company as the “well-known Trump Organization.”

A spokesman for Varela, Vladimir Rodriguez, said that he had seen the letter and was “evaluating the issue” but had made no decisions about whether to take action. Rodriguez said the issue is “in the hands of the corresponding authorities” but did not elaborate further.

At the time of the letter, the majority owner of the Trump hotel – a Cypriot-born investor named Orestes Fintiklis – was trying to fire the Trump Organization as the hotel’s manager. Fintiklis blamed the president’s company for mismanagement and the president’s damaged brand for the hotel’s low occupancy rates.

Earlier in March, Fintiklis had won a major victory when a Panamanian judge had handed control of the hotel over to him. Fintiklis had stripped the Trump name off the hotel and renamed it the Bahia Grand – but at the time, the Trump Organization still had hopes that it could win back control in Panamanian courts.

The letter from the Trump Organization’s attorneys told Varela that Trump’s company had been treated poorly by the Panamanian courts – so poorly, in fact, that its mistreatment violated a 1983 treaty between the United States and Panama governing investments.

In particular, the letter cites “irregularities” in decisions by Panamanian Judge Miriam Cheng. The lawyers say that Cheng had moved too quickly and had ignored an existing international arbitration case over the hotel.

“This situation is currently before the courts, but it has repercussions for the Panamanian state, which is your responsibility,” said the letter, signed by attorney Eric Britton.

The letter was first reported in the United States by the Associated Press. At Britton and Iglesias, a staffer confirmed to The Washington Post that the letter was legitimate but did not comment beyond that.

The White House referred questions to the Trump Organization. The U.S. Embassy in Panama referred questions to the Trump Organization.

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment. President Trump has said he gave up day-to-day control of the business when he took office, but he remains its owner and can withdraw money from it at any time.

A spokesman for Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “this is about differences between businesses, a case already attended by the court. This is not a bilateral matter between governments and not even a political issue.”

On Monday, Panama’s foreign secretary, Isabel de Saint Malo, told the AP that her office had also received a copy.

“It is a letter that urges Panama’s executive branch to interfere in an issue clearly of the judicial branch,” de Saint Malo said. “I don’t believe the executive branch has a position to take while the issue is in the judicial process.”

The Trump hotel in Panama opened in 2011 with both hotel and condo units. It was the Trump Organization’s first major project in Latin America, but it has recently become a major headache for the president’s company. A few years ago, the residential condo owners fired the Trump Organization as their managers, leaving the president’s company with only the hotel portion of the soaring building.

Then the hotel portion began to struggle, too – hurt by a crowded hotel market in Panama and tarred by a brand name that was disliked by many Latin Americans.

Each hotel room is owned individually by an outside investor. An owners association controlled the building. Soon, some hotel-room owners complained that their investments weren’t paying off, with their rooms being rented out 10 nights or fewer a month. “A financial bloodbath,” one called it.

Then came Fintiklis, who bought a huge block of rooms last year and became the hotel’s majority owner. Within weeks, he was seeking to fire the Trump organization as manager, saying it was “attached to our property like a leech.”

The Trump Organization had argued that their contract to run the hotel did not expire until 2031, and that Fintiklis had no legal cause to break it.

The dispute went to international arbitration. Then, though, Fintiklis simply showed up at the hotel in February, seeking to fire the Trump Organization in person.

After a multiday standoff, Cheng – the Panamanian judge – effectively handed control over to Fintiklis. He renamed the hotel the Bahia Grand and added cheeky jabs at its past operator: At the hotel bar, there are drinks called the “Stormy Jack Daniels” and the “Fire and Fury.”

Since the letter was sent, the Trump Organization’s prospects of retaking the Panama hotel have only declined.

In late March, an international arbitrator rejected a request by Trump executives that they be reinstated as the operators of the hotel. The arbitrator ruled that Trump’s team should not have been evicted – but, now that it had been, he would not undo its ejection.

“The facts on the ground now militate against forcibly undoing the steps that have been taken,” arbitrator Joel Richler wrote, according to the AP.

The arbitration case itself is continuing, as Trump’s company and Fintiklis’ company are still seeking damages from the other.

Fintiklis declined to comment on Monday.

filed under: