FBI to Probe Hollinger As Hicks Muse Quits Funding Talks

18 December 2003

Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour, the Canadian-born British peer and newspaper tycoon, was yesterday (Wednesday) twice assaulted by the fickle finger of fate.

First, he learned that Hollinger International -- the newspaper publishing empire of which he remains chairman and holds a controlling stake -- is to be investigated both by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorney's Office.

Later in the day it also emerged that US private equity firm Hicks Muse Tate and Furst has walked away from refinancing talks with Hollinger's debt-beset parent, Hollinger Incorporated, also chaired by Lord Black.

The inquiries by the FBI and Attorney's Office follow an ongoing probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hollinger, its auditor KPMG and a number of past and present executives have all received subpoenas, although no charges have yet been laid.

It is believed that that the latest inquiry will center around the US Sabanes-Oxley Act, which among much else forbids the signing-off of false accounts. Hollinger and Black both forcefully deny any wrongdoing, although the latter has agreed to repay some $7.2 million (€5.80m; £4.08m) to the company by next June.

On the refinancing front, Black and Hollinger have for the past three weeks been locked in talks with HMT&F. These concerned the investment group's possible acquisition for up to $400m of Hollinger Inc's 30.3% preferential (and controlling) shareholding stake in Hollinger International.

The latter publishes a range of US local and international newspapers, the better-known including Britain's Telegraph Group, the Chicago Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post.

However, the complexity of the links between Hollinger Inc and Hollinger International reportedly caused HTM&F to lose its taste for the deal.

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK) and Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff