`I am here until they carry me out,' said the American hotelier fighting the Moscow mafia. This week, they did

Phil Reeves on the murder of an entrepreneur who came to do business in the new Russia
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Paul Tatum foresaw his death. Last year, just before his luxurious hotel in Moscow was to play host to President Clinton, he produced a publicity booklet detailing a fierce dispute with his business partners. Across the front, in red Cyrillic letters, he printed: "Certificate of Death".

He knew that creating a stir as an American entrepreneur in a mafia-plagued and violent city was risky. But he carried on wrangling over the Radisson- Slavyanskaya hotel, the fashionable haunt of foreign dignataries and Russian businessmen, and the Moscow headquarters of the BBC.

Until this week. Yesterday, a few hundred yards from the riverside hotel, detectives were examining a blood-spattered area where Mr Tatum was shot in the back 11 times by a man with a Kalashnikov.

The 41-year-old businessman, a staunch Republican from Oklahoma City, once described post-Communist Russia as an "entrepreneur's heaven". The establishment - the first American-led joint venture hotel in the Soviet Union - opened with great fanfare in July 1991, after H R Haldeman, Richard Nixon's chief-of-staff, helped him attract the support of the Radisson hotel chain.

At the time, it was cited by many, including George Bush, as a shining example of the brave new world of US-Russian commercial cooperation. It turned out to be the opposite. The ensuing years were consumed by a murky and byzantine conflict over control of the pounds 30m hotel and business centre.

This erupted last year, when Mr Tatum's former Russian partners locked him out of his offices in the hotel and sealed it off. Mr Tatum, who had earlier tried to oust his rivals, responded in a characteristically flamboyant fashion by donning a bullet-proof vest and breaking back in, using an electric drill.

When he was again evicted, he came back, this time to barricade himself inside his hotel room, with 25 armed guards. He carried on fighting, even after one of them was stabbed in a lavatory. Acknowledging that his life was at risk, he told The Independent: "I am here until they carry me out."

The details of the dispute are complex, but their roots lie in an battle for control over the venture involving the Radisson, Mr Tate, and the city of Moscow. Radisson Hotels yesterday issued a statement calling Mr Tatum a "courageous entrepreneur", while noting that Radisson was in the process of dissolving its partnership with him through the US and Russian courts.

But he was also at loggerheads with the Moscow authorities. In September he bought a full-page newspaper advertisement for an open letter to the mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, warning of the "dangerous activities" overshadowing international investment in Russia.

Russian businessmen are gunned down almost daily but the shooting of foreigners is rare. The American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow said the killing marked a watershed."This message is going to be picked up in the boardrooms back in the States," it added.