PANAMA CITY – President Trump’s company appealed directly to Panama’s president to intervene in its fight over control of a luxury hotel, even invoking a treaty between the two countries, in what ethics experts say was a blatant mingling of Trump’s business and government interests.

That appeal in a letter last month from lawyers for the Trump Organization to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela was apparently unsuccessful – an emergency arbitrator days later declined to reinstate the Trump management team to the waterfront hotel in Panama City. But it provides hard proof of exactly the kind of conflict experts feared when Trump refused to divest from a sprawling empire that includes hotels, golf courses, licensing deals and other interests in more than 20 countries.

“This could be the clearest example we’ve seen of a conflict of interest stemming from the president’s role as head of state in connection with other countries and his business interests,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of The Project on Government Oversight, a Washington ethics and good government organization.

In the March 22 letter to Varela, lawyers for the Trump Organization “URGENTLY” request the Panamanian leader’s influence to help reverse the company’s acrimonious eviction as managers of the 70-story luxury building once known as the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower.

While never mentioning Trump or his role as president, the letter says lawyers representing the Trump Organization were aware of “the separation of powers” in Panama but essentially asks the country’s president to intervene in the judicial process anyway. It goes on to say that the eviction violates an investment treaty signed by the two countries and suggests that the Panamanian government, not the hotel’s new management team, could be blamed for any wrongdoing.

“We appreciate your influence in order to avoid that these damages are attributed not to the other party, but to the Panamanian government,” said the letter, which was copied to Panamanian Cabinet officials, as well as the presidents of the Supreme Court and National Assembly.

Five days later, however, on March 27, an arbitrator ruled against reinstating the previous management, even though he agreed Trump’s company should not have been evicted while arbitration was ongoing.

A source in Varela’s office who was not authorized to comment publicly confirmed receipt of the letter but his office did not respond to calls for comment.

Panama’s foreign secretary, Isabel de Saint Malo, who also received a copy of the letter, said Monday: “I don’t believe the executive branch has a position to take while the issue is in the judicial process.”

The White House referred all questions to the Trump Organization, whose general counsel, Alan Garten, did not respond to emailed queries as to whether Trump knew about the appeal. Calls to the Trump Organization’s law firm in the matter, Britton & Iglesias, were not returned.

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.