Murder in Moscow Contract killing: U.S. businessman is riddled with bullets in wrangle over luxury hotel.

November 09, 1996

THERE IS A lot of money to be made in Russia these days. But the risks involved are so great that most businessmen routinely travel with armed guards. Despite such precautions, in the five years since the Soviet Union's collapse, thousands of Russian businessmen have been killed by jealous competitors or criminals coveting a chance to take over a lucrative business.

Paul Tatum, a 39-year-old Oklahoman, has now become the first American businessman to fall victim to a contract killing in Moscow. He was riddled with bullets from a Kalashnikov automatic rifle last Sunday afternoon outside a busy metro station. As is usual in these kinds of cases, no one claims to have seen anything and the murder is unlikely ever to be solved.

Mr. Tatum was an aggressive ''cowboy capitalist'' who had made powerful enemies in Russia. Among them was Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, with whom Mr. Tatum was feuding over the control of the Radisson-Slavyanskaya Hotel and business complex. Mr. Tatum and the Moscow city government were partners in a company that had built that hotel on the banks of the Moscow River in 1991. But as has been common in many other profitable joint ventures, the Russian side quickly moved to oust the foreign partner.

When this happened to a downtown supermarket, its Irish investors, finding themselves confronted by gunmen during a board room battle, took the hint and left town. In contrast, Mr. Tatum fought back. After his death, the Moscow authorities wasted no time in announcing they were the indisputable sole owners of the hotel and would sell it.

Various levels of the Russian government have established a cozy relationship with entrepreneurs who are on the fringes of organized crime. Eyebrows were raised recently when President Boris N. Yeltsin rewarded one of his millionaire backers, Boris A. Berezovsky, and appointed him deputy chief of the National Security Council. The controversial Mr. Berezovsky has been the target of several mob-style assassination attempts. Two years ago, his driver was killed when his limousine was blown up.

The media tycoon has never been charged with any crime. But his appointment surprised even jaded Muscovites. "It's so blatant that it looks bad," one official said. "But it's like all new Russians: They have the money, they have the influence and they always want more."

Pub Date: 11/09/96

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