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Trump’s company asked Panama president to help with hotel fight

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“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, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, 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 high-rise 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.

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Late Monday, the Trump Organization made available a translated statement from its Panamanian lawyers, Britton & Iglesias, insisting that the letter to Varela was not an attempt to pressure him “or any other official of the government of Panama.” The law firm said its appeal to Panama’s government was “very common” and that it had not even informed Trump Organization officials of the move beforehand.

Five days after the law firm urged Varela’s intervention, however, a court arbitrator ruled against reinstating the previous management, even though he agreed that 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.

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