For all his wealth and influence, the fallen media mogul Conrad Black is little more than a common thief – except that he used arcane financial documents, rather than crowbars and guns, to seize his loot of $60m, according to US prosecutors.
In an opening statement at Lord Black’s racketeering trial in Chicago, assistant US attorney, Jeffrey Cramer, told a female-dominated jury that the former Telegraph owner lied and stole to prop up his position of international political leverage and to finance a lifestyle of corporate planes, exotic holidays and prime New York apartments.
“Bank robbers are masked and they use guns. Burglars wear dark clothing and use crowbars. These men dressed in ties and wore a suit,” said Mr Cramer, gesturing towards Lord Black and his three co-defendants – Jack Boultbee, Mark Kipnis and Peter Atkinson.
“You sit in a room with four men who stole $60m,” he said. “Four men who betrayed the trust of thousands of ordinary shareholders. Four men who decided that their multi-million dollar salaries were not enough.”
In a speech illustrated with graphics showing thick wads of dollar bills winding their way through a web of companies, Mr Cramer explained that Lord Black forged a successful career through the 1970s and 1980s as an owner of local newspapers in Canada and America. But a desire for political weight prompted him to buy the Daily Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, the Chicago Sun-Times and other international publications.
“Conrad Black didn’t want to focus on small newspapers in places like Jamestown, North Dakota,” said Mr Cramer. “He wanted his voice to be heard all over the world. He wanted to influence global events.”
The first day of evidence in the case was a landmark in Lord Black’s fall from grace from global newspaper proprietor to a 62-year-old defendant facing the rest of his life in prison if convicted on 17 charges of fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and obstruction of justice.