Donald Trump’s “Negotiations” for a Trump Tower, Moscow, 1996: the inside story

Diary notes, Moscow, Wednesday, 6 November 1996

Before moving on, just a word about the market information which I picked up in Charlotte from Sea-Land. Paul Scott, the old-timer whose business development activities preceded the assignment of Jack Helton to Moscow, was especially free with information. He says that they continue to carry large quantities of American neutral grain spirits to Riga; what happens next he does not want to know, but presumably they are sent onward with papers showing Kazakhstan as the final destination but ‘disappear’ in Russia on the way. Sea-Land is active in all the main commodities of U.S. export to Russia , and for the most part this means booze, chilled chicken parts, and cigarettes.

The chicken parts trade has now been taken over by a cartel of about 4 Russian companies including Soyuzkontrakt who have forced out all the dozens of small importers and distributors. Either they used aggressive pricing or, for the more stubborn, outright threats of violence, to get the others to back away from the business. The cartel avoids paying most of the customs duties by systematic fraud in invoicing and customs declarations; very much reduced prices are shown for customs purposes. I might add that this has the additional feature of depriving the suppliers of any legal claims on the real value of goods for purposes of insurance or non-payment.

My depressed mood is not assisted by the news yesterday of Paul Tatum’s murder in downtown Moscow, in the pedestrian underpass near the Kiev station, just a few hundred meters from the Hotel Radisson-Slavyanskaya where he was co-developer. Tatum has been locked in a public fight with Luzhkov’s Moscow Property Committee and with the Radisson over the 40% shares owned by his company Americom. His stubbornness in fighting city hall, in other words the mafia, was amazing. He surrounded himself with bodyguards, for weeks at a time was holed up in his offices atop the Radisson, issued full-page advertisements arguing his case. President Clinton twice stayed in the Radisson while this fight for control was going on. And now Tatum has been gunned down. Eleven bullets from a Kalashnikov. Larisa and I watched the news report on NTV and then the showing of his naked, bullet-ridden body in the morgue as if he were some Mussolini. There was something celebratory in the report which was deeply offensive.

In the midst of this little tragedy where the smoking gun leads back to the mayor himself, we have the concerts of Tina Turner going on now, the promotional visit of Claudia Schieffer for Revlon’s new boutique in GUM, and the visit of Donald Trump to seal a deal for the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow. In that connection, I had learned a week ago from Norma Foerderer that she would be accompanying Donald here these days. And last night we met up with her for late drinks at The Metropole.

We chat briefly about the Tatum murder. The city officials Donald was seeing pooh-poohed this, saying that Tatum was a trouble-maker, a squatter. Now they surely knew how to handle Donald, because the very word squatter gets him going.

It is clear that Trump will go ahead with the project whatever is going on here. And so he should, because he won’t be putting one cent of his own money into it: on the contrary he is selling his name for the marketing objective and that is all. The real investors will be Ben LeBow, chairman of the board (and principal owner) of Ligget and Myers cigarettes, who is also the owner of the Ducat real estate projects in downtown Moscow, and some banks. The connections at the top to Luzhkov and Yeltsin’s circle were made by Nahkamkin, the scoundrel art dealer who set up shop in New York in the 1970s and probably made his first fortune on smuggling Russian art works to the West. Norma had a beautiful dinner arranged by Zurab Tseretelli, the official sculptor to Luzhkov. They are going from one fete to another. Below and behind it all is a very sinister reality.

Still and all it is curious that Trump is about to put his name on his first project outside the USA in Moscow. And it is remarkably curious that we met up with Norma here in downtown Moscow. How life runs in circles.


Note:  Norma Foerderer was for 5 years my business partner as co-founder of the consultancy East-West Marketing, Inc. which I described at length in Volume I of these Memoirs. For more than 25 years, starting in the early 1980s, she was public relations director to the Trump Organization, snuffing out scandals surrounding Donald’s romantic life and publicizing his charitable activities such as the skating rink in Central Park, New York

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[Memoirs of Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up is now in print and available on all national websites of, as well as from other leading online retailers including Barnes & Noble.  “Volume II: Russia in the Roaring 1990s” will go to press in a couple of months]