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How did a young Miami financier snatch a hotel away from Donald Trump?

Kevin Hall and Glenn Garvin, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- Seven years ago, when the skeleton of the building that was to be the Trump Ocean Club had risen only 62 of its planned 70 stories, one of the developers gestured to it grandly and boasted to a reporter from Time magazine: "When you think of Paris you think of the Eiffel Tower, and when you think of Panama, you are going to think of this building."

That prophecy has at last been fulfilled, albeit in a manner quite unexpected. In a weird business coup that played out in full view of a wide-eyed world press earlier this month, President Donald Trump's signature overseas hotel was seized from him in a business coup plotted by a brash young kite-surfing financier based in Miami Beach.

Armed with a Panamanian court order and a band of workmen with crowbars, 39-year-old Orestes Fintiklis took over the hotel and had Trump's name torn off the wall following 10 days of public confrontations and even shoving matches between rival squadrons of lawyers, security guards and corporate suits.

"Panama is a crazy place, and we've seen plenty of crazy things, but nothing like this, ever," said a former senior official in the Panamanian government (who didn't want to be identified: "Leave me out of this, far out of this.") "An American president losing a hotel to some young guy nobody ever heard of, even in Panama, this is an amazing event."

Technically speaking, practically everything in the three preceding paragraphs of this story deserves an asterisk. Trump personally hasn't been involved in the dispute; his company, The Trump Organization, (which he still owns though a trust, but whose management was turned over to two of his sons when he became president) was.

And the squabble is not over title to the hotel, which Trump's company never held, but the lucrative contract to manage it. The Trump Organization seems to have lost that, at least temporarily: A Panamanian court put the contract in the hands of a neutral third-party company, and by the end of last week the hotel had a new name, The Bahia Grande, and a website that bragged it had "one exciting change -- we're under new management."

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The legal feuding over the management contract continues in Panama's court system, where it may drag on for years, and Trump's company could well wind up winning the case. The company "remains fully confident that it will not only prevail, but recover all of its damages, costs and attorneys' fees," said Amanda Miller, the Trump Organization's senior vice president for communication.

Even so, when workmen used crowbars to tear the letters T, R, U, M and P off the hotel, it marked the third time since his election that the removal of the president's name has been forced by tenants of a building.

The new owners of what had been the Trump International Hotel & Tower in the Canadian business capital of Toronto announced last June that they had reached a deal to remove the Trump name. The hotel and tower's original developers defaulted on their loan, and the property was sold last March.

The Toronto project suffered poor sales from its opening in 2012, and many of the original buyers are still in litigation against the Trump Organization, alleging inflated numbers.


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