Stock transactions in Hollinger International [H-Intl] took a startling leap during the last three trading days of January, increasing more than twenty-fourfold from an average of 260,000 shares daily to 6.3 million.
As yet no-one (save the parties concerned) know who's fuelling this hyperactivity. But the smart money is on H-Intl's largest institutional shareholder, Memphis-based investment firm Southeastern Asset Management. Some believe those good ol' Tennessee boys are busily unloading their 25% stake either to Britain's eager Barclay twins or other less colourful but equally ambitious newspaper rivals.
But Southeastern's lips are zipped, a spokesman telling inquisitive journalists the company has no obligation to answer their questions.
However, Californian securities firm Jones & Associates, a specialist in trading shares on behalf of publicity-shy investors, confirmed it had handled several large block trades in Hollinger stock last week, including a deal of at least one million shares on Friday.
Elsewhere on the Hollinger battlefront, a disgruntled shareholder -- the Louisiana Teachers Retirement System -- has filed a lawsuit in Chicago's US District Court. It names Lord Conrad Black and other H-Intl executives, alleging that improper deals were called to the attention of the board of directors, despite which "the directors simply rubber stamped the transactions." The suit also seeks class-action status.
Black and other executives failed "to disclose the transfer of millions of dollars of Hollinger funds into their own pockets," the suit charges. A hack for Black and a spokeswoman for H-Intl both said they hadn't yet seen the complaint and couldn't comment.
***STOP PRESS*** (February 4 0800 GMT)
Black Rounds on Fellow Directors With Lawsuit
Black has turned on his former boardroom allies, issuing a lawsuit that names Hollinger International [H-Intl] independent director Henry Kissinger, one-time US secretary of state, among others, for alleged "illegal manoeuvring and blatant thievery".
Also named on Black's hitlist are Gordon Paris, interim chief executive and chairman, and former Illinois governor James Thompson, both having allegedly abused "their fiduciary duties by using the special committee process to scapegoat Black, effectively offering him as a sacrifice to [H-Intl's] vociferous minority shareholders".
Nor has Richard Breeden, ex-chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, escaped unscathed. Now heading an independent inquiry into H-Intl, the writ claims that Breeden's appointment as a 'special monitor' to the company, as mooted by the SEC, will cost Hollinger about $750,000. Breeden stands accused by Black of "bilking [H-Intl] on a grandiose scale" for many months.
Data sourced from: Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff