Black Sues Hollinger Directors in C$850m Defamation Claim

17 February 2004

Embattled media mogul Lord Conrad Black is suing directors at Hollinger International [H-Intl] for allegedly turning him into a "loathsome laughing stock".

Black is claiming C$850 million ($646m; €506m; £342m) from five directors plus Richard Breeden, a special counsel to the US-listed newspaper publisher who has been investigating Hollinger's corporate governance.

Through his personal investment vehicle Ravelston Corporation Black owns Hollinger Incorporated [H-Inc], the holding company that controls the media group. He was both chairman and chief executive of H-Intl until November, when he quit the ceo role after Breeden's investigation unearthed $32.2m of payments to Black and other executives that had allegedly not been approved by the board or fully disclosed to shareholders [WAMN: 18-Nov-03]. The peer was later sacked as chairman by the media firm's directors.

Black's lawsuit, filed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, alleges that Breeden and the directors made false and misleading statements, covered up board approval for the disputed payouts and illegitimately forced the mogul from the company. He is claiming four defamation awards of C$200m plus C$50m in punitive damages.

"The defendants," argued the lawsuit, "sought to destroy Black personally, professionally and financially and to transform him from a respected owner of a successful media chain into a loathsome laughing stock."

The five directors cited in Black's suit are Gordon Paris (interim chairman of H-Intl), Jim Thompson, Richard Burt, Raymond Seitz and Graham Savage. They are expected to challenge the allegations vociferously.

"There is no merit to any of these ridiculous claims," declared lawyers for Breeden. "If Mr Black thinks that by bringing baseless litigation he can intimidate Richard Breeden and deter him from fulfilling his duties as special counsel to the Special Committee [investigating H-Intl], he has seriously misjudged Mr Breeden."

• Meantime, H-Intl this week plans to circulate financial details of some of its newspapers as it seeks to accelerate its asset auction.

It has received a number of offers for its properties, including Britain's Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times. It will draw up a shortlist in the next few days and give the chosen companies access to its data.

Also this week, a Delaware court will begin to tackle the mountain of litigation concerning the company's future. It will decide whether Black can sell H-Inc to Britain's Barclay brothers and block the newspaper firm's asset sale; or whether H-Intl can overturn Black's move and dispose of its titles.

The two sides are seeking a speedy resolution and have asked for a verdict by February 27. If Black wins, the Barclays deal will be completed on March 3.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff