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Conrad Black won't take stand

Former media baron and his co-defendants waive the right to testify as the defense rests.

June 13, 2007|From Reuters

CHICAGO — Lawyers defending Conrad Black and three former associates against criminal fraud charges wrapped up their case Tuesday after the onetime media baron and his co-defendants turned down a last chance to take the stand in their own defense.

The defense presentation lasting less than two weeks was relatively quick compared with the 11 weeks prosecutors took to try to prove that the four men stole $60 million from Hollinger International Inc., the company that ran Black's media empire.

With the jury out of the room as the defense rested, Judge Amy St. Eve of the U.S. District Court told Black and the others about their right to testify. "You understand if you choose not to testify that I will instruct the jury that you have the absolute right not to testify and that there is no inference of guilt?" she asked.

"I decline to exercise my right to testify," Black said. His three co-defendants followed suit.

Black's lawyers had never indicated that he would testify. The question is a formality that is part of the trial process.

In resting its case, the defense team cleared the way for final arguments in the trial, now in its 13th week. The jury was dismissed until Monday when closing arguments begin. They could last all of next week or even longer before the jury gets the case.

Black is charged with mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, racketeering and filing false tax returns.

The Canadian-born Black, 62, now a British citizen and a member of the House of Lords, could face years in prison and heavy fines if convicted on all counts.

Facing lesser charges are the other defendants: Jack Boultbee, former chief financial officer at Hollinger; Peter Atkinson, the firm's former general counsel; and Mark Kipnis, a lawyer for the company.

Prosecutors have accused the four men of engaging in a scheme in which they kept for themselves some noncompetition payments from the sale of properties as they dismantled what had been one of the world's biggest media empires.

Such payments are set aside from the proceeds of sales of businesses to keep sellers from reentering a market they have exited. But prosecutors contend the money that went to Black and the others should have gone to Hollinger International for the benefit of shareholders, who instead were kept in the dark. Black is also accused of abusing corporate perks, with a trip to Bora Bora on a company plane and a lavish birthday party for his wife, Barbara Amiel Black, at a fancy New York restaurant.

The last defense witness presented to the jury was former FBI white-collar investigator Alan Funk, who testified that the evidence available to company auditors did not indicate the payments in dispute were consistent with fraud.

Chicago-based Hollinger International was recently renamed Sun-Times Media Group.

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