by JEFF HORWITZ and JUAN ZAMORANO , Associated Press
PANAMA CITY (AP) — One of President Donald Trump's family businesses is battling an effort to physically evict its team of executives from a luxury hotel in Panama where they manage operations, and police have been called to keep the peace, The Associated Press has learned. Witnesses told the AP they saw Trump's executives carrying files to a room for shredding.
Representatives of the hotel owners' association formally sought to fire Trump's management team Thursday by hand-delivering termination notices to them at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, according to a Panamanian legal complaint filed by Orestes Fintiklis, who controls 202 of the property's 369 hotel units. Trump's managers retreated behind the glass walls of an office where they were seen carrying files to an area where the sounds of a shredding machine could be heard, according to two witnesses aligned with the owners. The legal complaint also accused Trump's team of improperly destroying documents.
The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity over concerns they would be drawn into an expensive and protracted legal fight.
Elsewhere in the building, the hotel owners' team and its allies were barred by Trump Hotel staff from entering the room containing the building's closed-circuit TV system as well as key computer servers for the hotel and apartments that share the property. In response, they shut off power to the room — temporarily bringing down phone lines and internet connections within the building.
According to the legal complaint, Trump's chief of security and six security guards "pushed and shouted at" Fintiklis when he came to deliver the termination notices. The complaint said the hotel employees then called the police.
A new confrontation appeared likely to arise during the weekend, as Trump's security staff set up early Saturday in the hotel lobby, witnesses said. But by Saturday afternoon the lobby was again quiet.
Representatives of the Trump Organization declined to comment, but have previously called attempts to fire their management company illegal and said no change in the building's control would be appropriate without a decision from arbitrators or a judge.
Fintiklis did not respond to messages left by text or email.
On Friday night, lawyers, notaries and rival security personnel gathered at the hotel in Panama City while talks were underway to prevent the conflict from deteriorating further.
The showdown is the newest low in a months-long fight over control of the property. Last August, Fintiklis' Miami-based Ithaca Capital Partners bought the 202 units in a fire sale from the property's struggling developer. As part of the deal, Trump Hotels sought and received some assurances that Ithaca would not seek to act against its interests as hotel manager.
Relations quickly soured amid abysmal hotel occupancy numbers and allegations by Ithaca and other hotel unit owners of financial mismanagement or misconduct. In October, Ithaca Capital led a push to terminate Trump Hotel's management contract and seek compensatory damages. Trump's company — which he still owns but does not directly control — refused to hand over control of the property, arguing that the vote to fire Trump Hotels was invalid.
A Panamanian court declined to support that claim in December, and the parties have since been fighting in court. The AP reported that the Trump management team ran off a group of Marriott executives who had been invited to tour the property amid a search for a replacement hotel operator.
On Thursday, Fintiklis arrived at the property with management staff and lawyers intending to take over the hotel immediately. The Trump management team again refused to yield control of the property, and according to the legal complaint filed by Ithaca's lawyers, refused to allow Fintiklis to check into any of his company's 202 hotel rooms.
Horwitz reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Natalie Schachar in Mexico City contributed to this report.