ThinkProgress

Trump’s Panama hotel debacle goes from bad to worse

Thinks seem to have gone from bad to worse at Trump's Panama property. (CREDIT: GETTY / RODRIGO ARANGUA)

Things seem to be going from bad to worse for President Donald Trump’s property in Panama.

In a letter obtained by ThinkProgress, Reps. Norma Torres (D-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-CA) questioned Alan Garten, general counsel at the Trump Organization, regarding what Trump and his associates knew about alleged money and drug trafficking at the property — and when they knew it.

The letter points to a series of previous investigations, including a substantial report from Global Witness, into the building, which was formerly known as Trump Ocean Club. The reports highlighted how many egregious red flags Trump and his team ignored, all of which pointed to Trump’s Panamanian property being used to funnel “proceeds from Colombian cartels’ narcotics trafficking” — a reality that, as Global Witness points out, transformed Trump into “one of the beneficiaries” of the massive money laundering.

As Torres and Engel write in the letter, which was first reported by Reuters, “Given widely reported allegations of money laundering and drug trafficking in connection with Trump Ocean Club Panama, we believe it is imperative to understand the Trump Organization’s knowledge of and role in sales at this property.”

They ask Garten to detail the steps the Trump Organization took regarding due diligence, and whether the Trump Organization was aware of any “agents or investors involved… in money laundering or illegal narcotics trafficking[.]”

The signs of money laundering surrounding Trump’s Panama hotel, which Trump previously described as Ivanka Trump’s “baby,” have only grown more glaring with each consecutive report. Between the anonymous shell companies — a number of which included the word “Trump” in their names — snapping up units to the fact that numerous units were purchased both in bulk and in cash, or even with notorious “bearer shares,” all indications pointed toward the Trump property being used as a store for money laundering operations.

These signs are obvious enough on their own; however, Torres and Engel also point out that Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who acted as the Trump property’s initial primary broker, later admitted to outright offering money laundering protection as one of his services.

As Reuters reported, Ventura said that he’d worked closely with Ivanka during the project’s development, meeting with her at least 10 times during the process. Ventura also sold units to an associate, David Helmut Murcia Guzmán, who himself was extradited to the U.S. for laundering proceeds from drug trafficking, according to the congressional letter.

All of this fits Trump’s prior patterns of ignoring due diligence requirements and forgoing any concerns about working with criminal elements — all in the pursuit of profit.

Panamanian problems

Unfortunately for the White House, as well as for Trump’s broader business ventures, new questions surrounding his awareness of money laundering and drug trafficking in Panama aren’t even the most pressing issues facing the Panamanian property.

A criminal complaint also accuses the Trump hotel’s general manager of “illegally taping a confidential meeting of the owner’s association.”

Over the past week a series of scuffles, alleged assaults, and the sudden arrival of riot police have rocked the hotel, stemming from a dispute between Trump Hotels, which had been managing the property, and a new majority owner, who has attempted to fire Trump’s staff. According to Univision, the Trump building has now “lost control of some of its bank accounts in Panama,” and can no longer process online reservations. Likewise, on Wednesday and Thursday, the building’s water supply was cut off, forcing hotel staff to give out “extra bottles” of Trump-branded water.

Further, on Wednesday, NPR reported a Panamanian justice of the peace had ruled for the building owner’s association against Trump Hotels — while Univision added that a further criminal complaint also accuses the hotel’s general manager of “illegally taping a confidential meeting of the owner’s association.” Four other individuals are also now pressing assault charges against the Trump security guards. All of this, while Panama threatens to become the latest country to distance itself from the Trump brand.

Unsurprisingly, as NPR noted, the latest occupancy numbers at Trump International Hotel and Tower in Panama have dwindled to a paltry 21 percent. Said one occupant, “This place is empty, it’s certainly not making any money… I’d like to see [Trump] go.”

Thus far, both Trump and the White House have not discussed the roiling affair in Panama, nor have they commented on the letter from Torres and Engel. However, the Trump Hotel Panama Twitter feed has made sure to keep followers apprised of the latest developments — at least, when it comes to the hotel’s menu.

Or as the Twitter account, in a bit of Freudian slip, tweeted yesterday: “No words needed to describe this…” The tweet accompanied a shot of the hotel’s waterfront view — all of this, on the second day in a row the Trump hotel’s water had been shut off.