-- More than a dozen police wearing bulletproof vests entered the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Panama on Monday morning and evicted the Trump Organization’s staff, a move that comes after weeks of simmering tensions over control of the property.
“I am the owner,” said Orestes Fintiklis, who last year obtained control over more than 200 units in the tower, as police and Trump employees pushed and shoved one another. “Love and peace!”
Fintiklis gained access to the tower’s main office late Monday morning. The colorful property owner told reporters he would not be commenting about the morning’s actions at this point. He then played a song on the piano for the gathered onlookers with lyrics that, when translated, said, “Fascism will not prevail.”
The Trump name was removed from the outside of the building shortly thereafter.
Photos of the office obtained by ABC News building indicate that while the Trump employees left peaceably, they allegedly took some of the building’s computer equipment with them.
Officials at the Trump Organization believe the firm will regain control of the Panama tower eventually and said Monday’s eviction was only meant to put the property in the hands of a third party while its dispute with the majority owner gets resolved through arbitration, according to a statement issued late Monday.
“Based upon the merits, Trump Hotels remains fully confident that it will not only prevail, but recover all of its damages, costs and attorneys’ fees, including those damages, costs and attorneys’ fees arising from today’s events,” the statement reads.
This was the third visit by police to the property in less than a week. Last week, a man identified as a Trump Hotels employee could be seen hurling another man down a narrow hallway in a video obtained by ABC News.
The ongoing dispute represents an early test for U.S. diplomats navigating international relations in places where the president’s family manages properties or conducts other business ventures, and it comes just days before the scheduled resignation March 9 of the U.S. ambassador to Panama over his personal disagreements with the Trump administration.
The Trump Organization in court filings called the effort a “design to wrongfully seize control over the hotel property.”
“Rather than abide by the clear terms of the agreement he had signed, Mr. Fintiklis had been conspiring with others to remove Trump Hotels as manager and fire most, if not all, of its loyal and dedicated employees,” the Trump Organization said in a statement to the press. “Looking back, it is now apparent that Mr. Fintiklis, in flagrant violation of the commitments he had made, never had any intention of keeping his word and had been plotting a takeover and termination of Trump Hotels all along.”
Fintiklis has argued in documents filed in a U.S. court in Florida that the Trump Organization had mismanaged the property, causing occupancy levels “to collapse” and expenses to “bloat.”
“Operators gross incompetence and deficient sales organization stands in the way of [the] owner making any profit on its investment, all the while lining the [Trump Organization’s] pockets,” he alleged in a court filing.
After the Washington Post reported on an earlier fracas in the building on Tuesday, The Trump Organization issued a two-page statement addressing the conflict and accusing Fintiklis of enlisting “a rogue private security team and others” to launch “a coordinated attack to physically take over the management of the Hotel.”
“When that effort failed,” the Trump Organization statement says the owners “resorted to thug-like, mob style tactics, repeatedly attempting to force their way into Trump Hotels’ offices, infiltrate and disrupt its computer systems and threatening and intimidating any employee of the Hotel that resisted.”