Panama says it won't intervene to help Trump with hotel dispute

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama’s government said on Monday it will not intervene in a dispute between the Trump Organization and a new majority investor in a hotel in the country’s capital, after the U.S. president’s family business asked for help.

A worker cleans the site where the Trump name was removed from the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, Panama March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos

In March, legal representatives of the Trump Organization wrote to Panama President Juan Carlos Varela asking him to help the group in its fight over ownership of the 70-floor hotel complex, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter from a law firm, dated March 22, asks Varela to use his influence and alleges that its due process rights had been violated.

But the Panamanian vice president said on Monday that getting involved in the dispute would be outside the government’s remit.

“I don’t think that the executive branch has a position to take while this issue is in process in the judicial branch,” Vice President Isabel Saint Malo told reporters.

Asked for comment, the Trump Organization sent a statement from its representatives, confirming that the letter was sent, but rejecting any assertion that the letter sought to “pressure” the president or any other official.

“The drafting of this type of letter was such a routine matter for our firm, that the authorization of Trump Organization for its delivery was not requested,” the letter said, adding no-one at the Trump Organization knew about it until Monday.

The dispute surrounding the Trump-branded hotel has shone a fresh light on the business dealings of the U.S. president.

When it was completed in 2011, the building in Panama City was Donald Trump’s first international hotel venture, a waterfront complex including apartments and a casino that has earned him between $30 million and $50 million.

Trump licensed his brand to the luxury project and provided hotel management.

But workers removed the Trump name from the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in March after the Trump Organization lost control of administration of the property.

The letter alleges that legal decisions violated a 1983 trade deal designed to protect U.S. investors in Panama.

The case is now in international arbitration.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Christine Murray; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Robert Birsel