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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hotel 'War' Became His Obsession

By the time Paul Tatum was gunned down in a metro underpass Sunday, he had become so obsessed with his quest to win back control of the Radisson Slavjanskaya complex that one friend described him as a kind of Captain Ahab.

To detractors, Tatum was no more than a self-promoting cowboy investor with a checkered business past.

But to his friends and admirers he was a crusader, fighting a quixotic battle for shareholders' rights in a lawless business environment.

Tatum's particular battle was to maintain his share in and control over the Radisson Slavjanskaya hotel joint venture, a deal he had put together to much fanfare in 1990 but which quickly began to fall apart.

"He was tenacious in his pursuit," said one associate, a realtor, who asked not to be identified. "I have never seen a guy as focused and as single-minded about achieving his goal, which was to be treated fairly according to the document he originally signed to start the joint venture and to reconstruct the hotel.

"In the last three months, he had changed the header on his fax to read, 'Americom War Room,' which was just an example of the kind of siege mentality which had developed over the last year or year and a half."

Tatum, the realtor added, "was not my choice of people to hang out with on the weekend or go to dinner with — but was a consummate salesman, and he convinced me about his plight, and I had real respect for his determination. I supported him. I feel certain that Paul Tatum was being treated unfairly."

Another Tatum friend said they had worried that his single-mindedness would lead to trouble. "As a person, I liked him a lot. I admired him. I had immense respect for him," said Annemarie van Gaal of Independent Media, which owns The Moscow Times. "And the last time I met him, I told him I thought he was going a bit too far in his persistence in trying to win the case. And I compared him to the main character in the movie 'Fearless' — a guy who is a survivor in a plane crash, who begins to think he's immortal."

Another associate, who also requested anonymity, said Tatum had become a kind of Captain Ahab, who insists on chasing his quarry although it must lead to his death.

"Paul was a likable guy, but his personality altered in the last year because he was so focused and so devoted to the his cause," he said. "He became a bizarre personality, to my mind."

Tatum, who was born in Edmond, Oklahoma, and later became a state Republican Party activist there, remains a mystery in some ways, despite his love of publicity.

It is not easy to find out, for example, how old Tatum was when he died Sunday. Some press reports said he was 41; other said 39. In perhaps his last press interview, which he gave to The Moscow Times in September, Tatum refused to reveal his age.

Tatum, who six years ago launched a project that converted an Intourist hotel in to the first American hotel joint venture in Russia, was remembered Monday by a former associate as a prickly, headstrong partner, yet a trailblazer.

"We considered him a little bit awkward, but he was nevertheless a pioneer for the American business community," said Harry Bodaan, who, with Tatum's help, set up the now-defunct International Press Club and Center. "He got into areas where no one had ever gone before, and he was, I think, widely respected for hat in the expat community. He dared to take risks. He was an adventurer."

Tatum also liked to make a splash — such as when he stood outside the entrance of the Radisson Hotels chain and the Moscow City Property Committee, his erstwhile business partners. He accused them of throwing him out of his office and home in a very hostile takeover bid.

After regaining access to his hotel room, Tatum barricaded himself inside with provisions — including junk food and "Star Trek" videos — and his bodyguards. For two weeks, he held court there, inviting journalists and other interested parties to come over to hear his side of the case.

His crusade had an element of theater to it, and Tatum, something of a bon vivant, clearly enjoyed the limelight and his notoriety. Even before his arrival in Russia, Tatum was by no means a typical businessman from the American Mid-west.

He made his first foray into business when he was 21. Touring the world and flat broke, he bought cigarettes from a cruise ship captain and make $2,700 in two days selling them on the streets of Tunis, Tunisia, at a 300 percent markup.

After his return to the United States, Tatum made his first million dollars in real estate, oil and political consulting. In 1983 however, Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma City went belly-up. In his Moscow Times interview, Tatum estimated that he lost about $1 million from that bank closure.

Yet it was largely due to Tatum's tenacity that his company, Americom Business Centers, hammered out an agreement with the U.S. Radisson Hotels chain and the Soviet Union's Intourist for the first American hotel complex in Russia.

On May 30, 990, the partners signed a $150-million deal. Then-U.S. President George Bush and then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, together at the time for a summit meeting, cited it as a model for future joint ventures.

The result of this deal was the Radisson Slavjanskaya — a hotel and business center complex that became an emblem of the New Russia.

But the marriage soon soured, and by spring of 1995 there was a pitched battle between Tatum's Americom, on one side, and Radisson Hotels and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's Moscow City Property Committee on the other.

Tatum lobbied for support in Washington, circulating a document denouncing Luzhkov's "re-nationalization" policy on Capitol Hill. As the warfare intensified, Tatum sought allies in Russia's State Duma, and, reportedly, even approached then-presidential security chief Alexander Korzhakov.

At the end, apparently desperate to raise money to support the process being adjudicated in Stockholm, Tatum issued what he called "Freedom Bonds" — in the name of investors' rights, "rule of law," sanctity of contract" — as a way of funding his court case.

After all that, several of Tatum's acquaintances said Monday that his murder had not come as a surprise.

"I lived in Moscow long enough to see friends killed," said Harry Bodaan, during a telephone interview Monday from the Netherlands. "So it didn't surprise me. When I heard the news, I was shocked but not surprised."