Hollinger: SEC Opens Formal Probe As Rivals Vie for Telegraph

20 November 2003

America's all-powerful Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday served subpoenas on troubled newspaper group Hollinger International, thereby signalling the start of a formal inquiry into the complex web of events leading up to Monday's resignation of Canadian-British chief executive Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour.

Black told the Financial Times: "I'll co-operate completely with them. I strongly want to know what did happen and will do anything I can to help the SEC find out. I see this now as a retrieval operation for my reputation."

But his reputation will depend on more than the SEC's findings. Black is also likely to be be called to account in court, given the legal action recently launched against him by New York investment firm Tweedy Browne, holder of an 18% stake in Hollinger and one of the most vocal critics of its ceo's style of corporate governance [WAMN: 06-Oct-03].

Black quit his post Monday, in the wake of an internal investigation that uncovered $32.2 million (€27.04m; £18.96m) in "non-compete payments" paid direct to him and other senior directors by purchasers of former Hollinger assets. The payments had not been approved by the group's audit committee nor properly disclosed to investors.

• Meantime, the 'jewel in Hollinger's crown', Britain's best-selling broadsheet newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, has set rivals salivating as they scent a sell-off -- a scenario that has also spawned a frenzy of speculation by the mainstream media and ad trade publications.

According to these imaginative sources, among those mooted as potential bidders are former Telegraph Group managing director Stephen Grabiner; Richard Desmond, the proprietor of Express Newspapers; the Daily Mail & General Trust; former Conservative Party treasurer Sir Michael Ashcroft; the reclusive Barclay twins, billionaire owners of London's Ritz Hotel and The Scotsman newspaper; and US investment tycoon Nelson Peltz.

Also Saddam Hussein, Homer Simpson and the Abominable Snowman.

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