Chicago: Media tycoon Conrad Black, known for his lavish parties and flamboyant personality, was found guilty on 13 July of fraud and obstruction of justice after being accused of raiding his company’s coffers.
The 62-year-old Canadian-born British lord, who once ran one of the world’s largest newspaper empires, betrayed little emotion as he was convicted on four charges, one of obstruction and three of fraud, which could carry a maximum of 35 years in jail.
He was cleared of eight other charges of fraud and one of racketeering in a case which arose out of the sale of newspapers in Canada by his former company Hollinger International.
The ebullient newspaper mogul, who counted celebrities and politicians among his friends, now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years prison for obstruction and five years on each of three counts of mail fraud.
The fraud charges also carry fines of some $250,000 each, but the judge could impose millions of dollars more in penalties.
Black and his associates had each faced 13 charges, accused of skimming some 60 million dollars from the sale of hundreds of newspapers in Canada and the US.
Friday’s verdict was a spectacular fall from grace for the autocratic businessman, who throughout maintained his innocence, denouncing the case as little more than smear campaign.
After rubbing shoulders for years with global movers and shakers, Black’s problems began when he started divesting some of his empire in 1999.
He and his associates wrote non-compete clauses into sales agreements which granted them tax-free bonuses and at the same time protected the new owners against Hollinger launching new publications to compete with those it had sold.
The three mail fraud charges relate to two payments of more than $2.9 million made by American Publishing Company for the partial acquisition of Hollinger, and a separate $600,000 payment from the Kentucky-based newspaper group Paxton Media.
The defendants were formally charged with “mail fraud” because the payments arrived by post.
The obstruction of justice charge arose when Black was caught on tape loading 13 boxes of documents from his office into his car after the US Securities and Exchange Commission notified him he was under investigation.
In a swift reaction from the Britain’s Daily Telegraph, which Conrad once owned, the paper’s political editor said Friday’s events were “a huge tragedy”.
“He was in many respects a model proprietor. He invested in the paper, got new printing presses,” editor George Jones told Sky News television.
“Unfortunately for some reason he became addicted to money, and a lavish lifestyle.”
The son of a wealthy brewery executive, Black once presided over the third largest newspaper empire in the world, owning such prestigious titles as the Daily Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times.
But his readiness to flaunt his wealth and privilege, his conservative views and his buccaneer business acumen alienated his more self-effacing fellow Canadians long before he renounced his citizenship in order to become a British Lord in 2000.
In another blow, the Conservative Party in Britain said they had removed Black’s right to sit as a Tory member of the House of Lords following Friday’s conviction.
Most of the newspapers Black owned have been sold and Hollinger International has been renamed the Sun-Times Media Group.