Poor Conrad Black. Even as one-time rival Rupert Murdoch stirs up the publishing world by bidding for the Wall Street Journal, Black, a former newspaper baron himself, sits glowering in a crowded courtroom in Chicago accused of an assortment of crimes.
To make matters worse, the fate of the Canadian-born, impeccably dressed British lord rests with ordinary Americans. There isn’t a business suit in the jury box, much less a hand- tailored one. One juror amuses herself by chewing gum and blowing bubbles.
Will indignities never cease?
Not any time soon. This week Black took more blows, these delivered by David Radler, his partner of 38 years, an admitted liar and now the prosecution’s star witness.
At 64, Radler is two years older and substantially shorter than Black, more so given Black’s confident posture and Radler’s slight stoop.
He has confessed his own guilt in defrauding the company he and Black built into a global newspaper chain, Hollinger International. He traced their partnership to 1969 when the two men, then in their 20s, decided to buy a small English-language newspaper in French-speaking Quebec.
“I thought he’d be a great partner to have,” Radler said.
The two men partnered in fraud, too, according to Radler. By his account, it began simply enough and grew more audacious over time.
With Black sitting mute and rarely looking straight at Radler, his ex-partner explained how it went.
As Hollinger was selling newspaper properties, Black proposed in 1999 to take some of the sales proceeds from Hollinger and divert them to the parent company, Hollinger Inc., a private holding company in Toronto that Black and Radler ran. This meant they would get bigger chunks of the money, while shareholders in the other, publicly traded company, would get less.
The money was supposed to have compensated Hollinger International for its promises not to compete with the new owners of the newspapers.