US appeals court orders bail for Conrad Black

20th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A US federal appeals court has granted disgraced media mogul Conrad Black bail as it considers whether to overturn his six-and-a-half-year jail sentence for defrauding shareholders.

The Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals said the terms of Black's release would be set by the district court in Chicago, and it was not immediately clear when Black would be freed after spending the past two years behind bars.

Bail was granted after a US Supreme Court ruling last month opened the way for Black to challenge his July 2007 conviction for a multimillion-dollar fraud.

Black, who began serving his sentence in March 2008, was charged with raiding the coffers of his once mighty newspaper empire, Hollinger, and trying to cover up his crime.

But opening the way for the 65-year-old's appeal and release from jail, the Supreme Court ruled that a 1998 law that allowed corporate bosses to be prosecuted for depriving shareholders of "honest services" had been too broadly interpreted.

The clause was a favorite tool for white-collar crime prosecutors precisely because of its broad language, but the highest US court ruled it could only be narrowly applied to cases involving bribery or kickbacks.

"We are extremely pleased the Court of Appeals rejected the government's argument that our unanimous Supreme Court victory meant nothing," Black's attorney Miguel Estrada said in a statement posted on the Toronto Star's website.

"According to the Court of Appeals, the trial judge must now set the bail terms. I am trying to get on the judge's calendar so we can finalize the details and get Lord Black out as soon as possible."

Black turned his back on his native Canada to become a British peer -- Lord Black of Crossharbour, and once ran the world's third largest media empire with such titles in his stable as Britain's Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Flamboyant in lifestyle and brutal in business, Black once counted politicians and popstars among his entourage as he built up a towering newspaper empire.

But he was forced to quit as head of the holding company Hollinger when he was charged with siphoning off millions of dollars from the firm, notably when it began divesting its Canadian and US publications in 2000.

Black and associates were convicted of stealing 3.5 million dollars by awarding themselves tax-free bonuses from the sell-offs of newspapers, without the approval of Hollinger's board. They were accused of skimming off some 60 million dollars in all between 1999 and 2001.

It was a sharp fall from grace for Black, who was 25 when he bought his first newspaper title, the Sherbrooke Record, a small, debt-ridden Canadian weekly. Two years later, he added about 20 newspapers in the Sterling company chain.

At one stage, he controlled more than half of Canada's newspapers as he expanded his holdings, buying up struggling titles, then selling assets and downsizing.

He took control of Britain's Daily Telegraph in 1985 for a knockdown price, beating magnate Rupert Murdoch to the deal, and kept the newspaper consistently ahead of Murdoch's The Times in Britain's broadsheet circulation war.

He became a friend of Britain's then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher and an influential voice within her Conservative Party.

In December 2007, Black wrote in emails to Canadian public broadcaster CBC that he would be back after serving his term.

"Prison would be a bore, but quite endurable," he wrote. "I can get on with anyone and adjust to almost anything and I don't consider it shaming" to go to prison.

"I don't see custody as (a) dead end," he wrote, adding he would bounce back like other famous inmates before him.

© 2010 AFP

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