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Media mogul Black to leave US prison

2012-05-04 13:07

Miami - Deposed media mogul Conrad Black was due to be released from a US prison on Friday after serving time for fraud and obstruction of justice, but that will not close the book on the saga of his spectacular fall from grace.

A political firestorm has engulfed Ottawa since news emerged that the controversial convict - who renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a British Lord - will be allowed to return home to Canada.

And Black - who has vehemently professed his innocence - has shown no interest in going quietly into the night.

Media empire

Black, 67, has launched libel lawsuits in Canada to strike back at the detractors he blames for destroying his once vast empire.

The flamboyant newspaper baron - who once counted politicians and pop stars among his entourage - build the world's third largest media empire from the ground up.

Hollinger International's flagship titles included Britain's Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times, Canada's National Post, the Jerusalem Post and the Sydney Morning Herald.

At its peak it had revenues in the billions and daily circulation in the millions.

Foreseeing the decline of print media as a result of the Internet, Black began selling off hundreds of newspapers in 1999.

His downfall came from payments written into sales contracts that amounted to huge - and improperly disclosed - tax-free bonuses for Black and other executives.

Forced out

Black was forced out in 2003 after shareholders accused him of engaging in a $500m "corporate kleptocracy" and was charged with US securities fraud in 2004.

By the time the case went to court, Black and his associates stood accused of skimming $60 million.

The closely-watched case included accusations that Black threw lavish parties for his wife on the company dime and abused his corporate jet privileges while taking exotic vacations.

Perhaps most damning was videotape from a security camera showing Black taking 13 boxes out of his Toronto office after he found out he was being investigated by US securities officials.

Black and his associates were ultimately convicted of stealing $6.1m by awarding themselves tax-free bonuses from newspaper sell-offs without the approval of the board of the Hollinger holding company.

Black was also convicted of obstruction of justice for removing the boxes.

Jail time

He had served 29 months of a 78-month sentence when the US Supreme Court tossed out the "honest services" law that had formed the basis of his 2007 conviction.

Released from prison in 2010 while his case was reexamined by the court, Black succeeded in shedding two more counts on appeal.

That brought the total fraud down to $600 000, of which Black received less than half.

While his lawyers pleaded that Black had suffered enough, a federal judge ruled that he should serve another 13 months in prison for his crimes - a single fraud count and the obstruction charge.

Black reported to a Miami prison in September as his memoirs professing his innocence hit bookshelves.

In "A Matter of Principle," Black hit out at a justice system he was convinced failed him and insisted he would "never ask for mercy and seek no one's sympathy."

His early release after just eight months was the result of credit for good behavior and time served.