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The Battle of Black

The basics of what Conrad Black calls 'the putsch' against him are well known. Along with three other executives, he will be appearing in a Chicago court next week to answer allegations that they took more than $80-million (U.S.) from Hollinger International. All have pleaded not guilty. And Lord Black -- who faces charges including fraud and money laundering -- does have some sound defences. So what kind of fight can we expect? The Globe and Mail's Paul Waldie presents the 10 most likely shots from each camp.

Globe and Mail Update


Conrad Black: If Lord Black testifies, prosecutors will probably do their best to provoke him into coming across as arrogant and pompous for the jury. However, given his track record at another U.S. court hearing in 2004 involving a proposed sale of Hollinger -- where a judge concluded his actions were "cunning and calculated" -- Lord Black's lawyers probably don't want to see him on the stand.

The main man: The prosecution's key witness will be David Radler, Lord Black's right-hand man for more than 30 years. They will rely on the Montreal businessman to outline in detail how the alleged scheme to siphon off money worked and how Lord Black and others kept information from company directors. What makes Mr. Radler a really compelling witness: He is known for keeping every scrap of paper and is intimate with the inner workings of Hollinger.

Tough tactics: The prosecution will probably adopt the aggressive stand of its chief, Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Although he probably won't be leading the daily charge in the courtroom, the man known for chasing Osama bin Laden and mob bosses John and Joseph Gambino will be providing critical guidance to his assistants. He's also coming off a big win with this week's conviction of U.S. vice-presidential aide Lewis (Scooter) Libby. He earned a reputation during that case for his muscular approach, something likely to carry over into Mr. Black's trial.

Over the horizon: Prosecutors will zero in on a series of deals involving Hollinger's sale of newspapers to Horizon Publications Inc., a private company co-owned by Lord Black. While many other transactions in the case are complicated, this one is fairly straightforward. Hollinger allegedly sold the papers at a big discount to Horizon and even paid Horizon not to compete in the same communities. What prosecutors will try to show is that Lord Black's personal businesses benefited and he was paid not to compete against himself -- all allegedly at the expense of Hollinger shareholders.

The companies: Prosecutors don't just have David Radler in their corner. They can also point the jury to two former companies once controlled by Lord Black that have turned against him. Hollinger Inc., which is under new management, has signed a co-operation agreement with prosecutors. And Ravelston Corp. Ltd., Lord Black's old holding company, has pleaded guilty. Ravelston is in receivership and the receiver entered the plea despite Lord Black's objections.

The report: Prosecutors will probably try to use a 500-page report prepared by a committee of Hollinger's board three years ago as a road map for the jury. The report was the culmination of an internal investigation into alleged misconduct at the company. It portrayed Hollinger under Lord Black's management as a "corporate kleptocracy." Prosecutors can be expected to cite numerous statements Lord Black and others made to the committee during its investigation.

The crusader: Another key witness for the prosecution will be Richard Breeden, a former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Breeden led Hollinger's internal probe and wrote the hefty report that outlined all the alleged wrongdoing. Mr. Breeden knows the issues inside out at Hollinger and he won't be holding anything back. He has been highly critical of Lord Black and he could prove to be a formidable witness, given his reputation at the SEC as a fierce fighter of corporate crime. He once told his staff that an alleged lawbreaker "should be left naked, homeless and without wheels."

The directors: Prosecutors are also expected to call several former Hollinger directors as witnesses. They are expected to say that they were not informed of the details surrounding payments to Lord Black and that he duped them for years.

The spending: Prosecutors will probably pound away at Lord Black's lavish lifestyle. They have already alleged in court filings that he used company cash to pay for a birthday party for his wife, Barbara Amiel Black, and to cover a variety of personal expenses such as a trip to Bora Bora, $2,700 (U.S.) in opera tickets, $2,500 (U.S.) for handbags, $3,500 (U.S.) worth of silverware for his private jet and nearly $25,000 (U.S.) for "summer drinks."

The paper trail: Prosecutors have a long trail of documents they can rely on to prove allegations that Lord Black and others diverted company money to themselves. A jury may find some of the musings by Lord Black particularly damning -- such as "I am not prepared to re-enact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility," or "It's my company, and I'll decide when and what to tell the board."


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