- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CHICAGO (AP) — Former media baron Conrad Black’s racketeering trial got under way yesterday with a federal prosecutor calling him a corporate swindler who stole millions of dollars and Mr. Black’s attorney ripping into the government’s star witness as a liar.

“It was theft, it was fraud, it was crime,” federal prosecutor Jeffrey H. Cramer said in a fiery opening statement.

But defense attorney Edward M. Genson said the money was made legally and scoffed at the notion that Mr. Black and his three co-defendants had defrauded shareholders in the Hollinger International newspaper empire.

“They were entitled to the money,” Mr. Genson said. “Were they entitled to that much money? That’s a philosophical matter.”

Mr. Genson appealed to jurors not to blame Mr. Black for getting millions of dollars in payments from buyers when he sold off hundreds of community newspapers across the United States and Canada.

“This was not Enron,” Mr. Genson said.

Mr. Black, 62, is charged along with Jack Boultbee, 63, of Vancouver, Hollinger’s former chief financial officer; Peter Y. Atkinson, 59, of Toronto, the company’s former general counsel; and Mark Kipnis, 60, an attorney who served as corporate secretary in the Chicago headquarters.

The men are accused of siphoning $60 million out of Hollinger through asset sales in which all but Mr. Kipnis pocketed millions of dollars in payments from buyers.

Mr. Black by himself is reported to be responsible for $84 million that the company lost through the payments, which Mr. Cramer told jurors eventually turned into “a bold money grab” by the executives.

Mr. Genson painted the government’s star witness, F. David Radler, the No. 2 man in Mr. Black’s organization for decades, as a liar who would say anything to please the federal prosecutors who gave him a deal.

“David Radler will come into this court and lie to you about Conrad Black,” Mr. Genson said. He said that Radler would say every deal Hollinger made “magically became a Black-orchestrated deal after Radler cut his deal.”

Radler pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and agreed to testify for the government in return for a relatively lenient 29-month sentence and $250,000 fine. Prosecutors say that Mr. Black, if convicted, could be sentenced to 101 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve is presiding over the trial.

Mr. Black, Mr. Boultbee and Mr. Atkinson received payments in return for agreeing not to compete with companies that bought hundreds of U.S. and Canadian community newspapers from Hollinger.

Mr. Cramer told jurors the money should have gone to Hollinger shareholders and that, when questions were asked about the payments, Mr. Black brushed them aside as “an epidemic of shareholder idiocy.”

Mr. Genson portrayed Mr. Black as a brilliant businessman with a bent for politics who had built the Hollinger empire only to have it taken away from him. He said a special committee set up by the board of directors to investigate the noncompete payments had essentially hijacked “a company that he had spent his life building.”

The company once owned the Chicago Sun-Times, the Toronto-based National Post, the Daily Telegraph of London and the Jerusalem Post, as well as hundreds of community newspapers across the U.S. and Canada. All of the big papers except the Sun-Times have been sold, and the company has changed its name to Sun-Times Media Group.

Mr. Black was born in Canada but gave up his citizenship to become a British baron.

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