Conrad Black charged with 8 counts of fraud

Conrad Black charged with 8 counts of fraud

Former media baron Conrad Black has been charged with eight counts of mail fraud and wire fraud for allegedly looting millions of dollars from Hollinger International, the publishing company he used to head.

In an 11-count indictment unsealed Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago accused Black and three other former executives of Hollinger International of diverting money that should have gone to the company and its shareholders.

The indictment also names John Boultbee, a former executive vice-president of Hollinger International, Peter Atkinson, another former executive vice-president at Hollinger, and Mark Kipnis, the former corporate counsel at Hollinger International.

Black and Boultbee are each charged with eight counts of fraud. Atkinson is facing six counts. Kipnis, who now faces nine counts, was also named in an August indictment and has pleaded not guilty. He's out on bail.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $250,000 US fine on conviction.

"Insiders at Hollinger – all the way to the top of the corporate ladder – whose job it was to safeguard the shareholders, made it their job to steal and conceal,'' U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement.

U.S. government alleges two new 'fraud schemes'

The indictment alleges Black and the other defendants fraudulently diverted $51.8 million US through "non-competition agreements" when Hollinger International sold most of its newspaper assets to CanWest Global in 2000.

U.S. authorities say U.S. and Canadian shareholders were cheated by the alleged fraud, as were "Canadian taxing authorities." At the time, non-compete fees were not taxable in Canada.

The second "scheme" alleged by authorities has Black and Boultbee fraudulently misusing corporate perks, including two luxury apartments in New York, a company jet for a South Pacific vacation, and using $42,000 US of corporate funds to throw a lavish birthday party for Black's wife, Barbara Amiel.

Authorities are also seeking the forfeiture of at least $80 million US from Black, Boultbee, Atkinson, and Kipnis.

Prosecutors say they also want to keep the more than $8.5 million US authorities seized from the sale of Black's New York apartment in October. They also want Black's Florida home, which he put on the market last year for $36 million US.

'He will be found innocent': Black's lawyer

A statement from Edward Greenspan, Conrad Black's lawyer, said his client is innocent. "Conrad Black asserts his innocence without qualification with respect to each and every one of the charges set forth in the indictment," the statement said.

"It will be shown that he has, at all times, acted within the law. He is confident that, if given a full and fair opportunity to defend himself, he will be found innocent."

Black is believed to be in Toronto. He was in that city on Tuesday for a gala dinner for Maclean's magazine.

Arrest warrants issued

U.S. officials said they've issued arrest warrants for Black, Boultbee and Atkinson. They said they'll let the three appear voluntarily in Federal Court in Chicago. "Otherwise, [U.S. officials] will seek extradition," a statement said.

No date has been set for an arraignment.

In August, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago announced separate charges against two former associates of Black's, including his top lieutenant, David Radler, for participating in a plan to divert more than $32 million US of non-compete fees from Hollinger International in a series of "self-dealing" transactions.

Black's former holding company, Ravelston Corp., was also charged.

Radler subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of mail fraud and faces 29 months behind bars. He is co-operating with prosecutors in the ongoing investigation.

Observers expect Radler will testify in the Black case.

This month, Black sued the U.S. government to get back the money seized by U.S. authorities from the sale of his New York apartment. The U.S. government alleges the proceeds from the sale are part of a "fraud scheme."

In the suit, Black said he would be "hamstrung" in his ability to mount a defence in the event he was charged with a crime unless the money was returned to him.

The Canadian Press reported Thursday that Black is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to stop Ravelston from pleading to fraud charges.

Black's lawyer, Edward Greenspan, had previously argued it would be foolish for Ravelston to voluntarily enter a plea, questioning the U.S. government's justification for charging a Canadian company that does not operate in the United States.