Hollinger International board repeats demands that Black return money

The board of Hollinger International reiterated demands Tuesday that former CEO Conrad Black repay $7.2 million US in contentious non-compete payments that he has refused to give back.

Hollinger International said prior to its board meeting that Black had sent a letter "seeking to justify his receipt of the unauthorized payments previously disclosed by the company".

However, the board decided there was no reason to change its view that Black must pay back the money.

Black had initially agreed to pay back some of the disputed payments, but signalled Jan. 16 that he would not meet a deadline to begin repaying the money. Black now says that deal was not valid.

One day later, the company dumped Black as its non-executive chairman and sued him and former Hollinger president Radler for $200 million US, citing "systematic schemes to divert corporate assets and opportunities to themselves."

Hollinger International also said it has formed a special board committee to evaluate the Barclay brothers' $605-million takeover bid for Hollinger Inc.

Also on Tuesday, the board said Gordon Paris, its current interim CEO and president, has been selected as interim chairman, replacing Black.

Newly-appointed Hollinger Inc. director declines invitation

Holding company Hollinger Inc. also announced that a new director who the company had announced as a new board member had in fact declined the invitation.

On Friday, Hollinger Inc. announced that former Bank of Nova Scotia executive Andre Bisson and retired general Richard Rohmer had been appointed as directors of Hollinger Inc. and members of its new audit committee.

On Tuesday, Hollinger put out another release, saying Bisson had resigned from Hollinger's board "due to a conflict."

Just hours after that release, Bisson himself issued a statement saying he'd decided on Friday not to join the board after seeing the company's documents, correcting the impression that he'd quit after four days as a Hollinger director.

"Friday, January 16, Hollinger's secretary, Peter White, offered me to join the Company's Board as Hollinger wanted to maintain a corporate presence despite selling its assets," Bisson said in his statement.

"After consulting the Company's documents, I declined the invitation later in the afternoon," Bisson said.

Bisson told Canadian Press that after seeing the documents he decided there might be some potential conflicts of interest so he tendered his resignation from the board "at about 5:15 [Friday afternoon] and tendered my resignation verbally, which was confirmed in writing Monday morning."

But Bisson said Hollinger had already issued a statement on Friday announcing that he had accepted a seat on the board. "This release consequently generated some confusion," he said.

There have been seven other resignations from the Hollinger Inc. board since November.

That month, four independent directors on the company's audit committee quit the board, which is dominated by Conrad Black and Hollinger executives, after Black refused to quit.

Three Hollinger executives – Daniel Colson, Peter Atkinson and Charles Cowan – have also stepped down. Colson and Atkinson quit citing personal reasons, but retain management jobs at Hollinger International. Cowan retired.

Former Ontario cabinet minister Gordon Walker was added to the board on Jan. 19.

Walker and Rohmer, along with Hollinger co-CEO and board member Peter White, will join the company's new audit committee.

The remaining directors on Hollinger's board include Black, Peter White, David Radler, Barbara Amiel, and Jack Boultbee.