MOSCOW — All seemed well in the glow of perestroika as Irvine-based Americom Business Centers and Radisson Hotels International teamed up in 1989 to operate a posh hotel and business office complex in Moscow.
Now the relationship resembles a battle scene from "War and Peace."
And Americom's fiery president, Paul E. Tatum, is battling not only the Minneapolis hotel operator, but the Russian partner in the joint venture as well.
An increasingly ugly two-year fight for control of the Radisson Slavjanskaya, Moscow's only American-run luxury hotel-business complex, worsened last week as Tatum barricaded himself in his three-room suite while armed Moscow police tried to enforce an eviction ordered by his partners.
But on Tuesday, Tatum won some breathing room when Moscow's Dorogomilovsky District Court temporarily halted the eviction effort, allowing him to retain his office and his suite until a trial can be held.
The court's ruling comes just a day before White House advance teams are scheduled to visit the hotel to prepare for President Clinton's May 9-11 summit with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin. Clinton stayed in the hotel during his visit to Moscow in January, 1994.
Tatum got to Russia with the help of a key figure from another administration. Richard Nixon's chief of staff, the late H.R. Haldeman, was an Americom co-founder who used his political clout in Russia to help the company win its stake in the lucrative Slavjanskaya operation.
But since the hotel opening in 1991, Tatum and his other partners have been feuding over his operation of the business complex and the charges he has rung up at the hotel.
In its decision Tuesday, the Moscow court told Americom's partners to stop interfering in the conduct of Tatum's business.
"We're gonna tell them to jump off a cliff," the jubilant Orange County entrepreneur said in a telephone interview from his apartment on the top floor of the four-star hotel. He said he would try to reclaim his office in the nine-story building's business wing this morning.
Since the attempted eviction, Tatum had been camping out in his apartment--subsisting on takeout food because he has been denied room service--while round-the-clock guards have been manning his office. Joint venture officials said they are taking all required legal steps to process Tatum's eviction.
"The board members are not against Americom as a company; they're against Paul Tatum as a person," said Umar Dzhabrailov, acting general director of the joint venture. "He is a destructive element."
Despite Tatum's fractious, tumultuous relationship with his partners, not everyone is discouraged from doing business with him.
Tatum disclosed Tuesday that Hyatt Hotels and Florida developers Brown & Rook will soon become partners with Americom in building a multimillion-dollar hotel and business complex in the booming central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod.
Though the deal has not yet been formally announced, Tatum said the hotel complex, which would include a business center to be run by Americom and an exhibition center, would begin operations in mid-1996.
Hyatt is aware of problems that the Radisson partnership has been having, but "it has not dissuaded us from working with Americom," said Gerald Sanders, Hyatt's director of development.
"It hasn't affected the city of Nizhny Novgorod's consideration of Americom, either," he added. Hyatt, while close to opening other hotels in Moscow and St. Petersburg, has not yet begun operations in the former Soviet Union.
The joint venture that runs Moscow's Radisson Slavjanskaya includes Mosintour, an agency of the city of Moscow and heir to the old Soviet internal tourism agency Intourist.
The dispute with Tatum centers on the assertion by Dzhabrailov and other joint venture operators that Americom's chief owes nearly $300,000 in rent and other expenses that he has charged to the hotel. Tatum, however, contends that the joint venture is supposed to pay those expenses.
Tatum and the heads of Radisson Hotels and Mosintour sit as directors of the joint venture, but the Minneapolis hotel chain has sued to dissolve its ties with Americom, and Mosintour is pursuing the eviction.
Bernie Rome, a Newport Beach executive and co-founder of Americom, said Mosintour wants Tatum out because he "has not recognized the (partnership's) Russian member" since the dissolution of the Soviet Union caused Mosintour to be substituted for the Soviet Intourist organization.
Rome, who is retired and works part time as a consultant to Americom, said he sees Tatum's problems with Radisson as a culture clash.
"You have two companies with very different ways of operating," he said. "There's the large, highly structured Radisson and then there's Americom, a small entrepreneurial company with a strong majority shareholder in control. Each is blaming the other for interfering" in operations.