Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour, the Canadian-born newspaper baron who switched nationality to accept a British peerage, invoked the right to remain silent when called to testify before America's Securities and Exchange Commission at a hearing Monday in Chicago.

On the advice of his lawyers, Black cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Which did not imply any guilt, his lawyers hastened to explain.

"In light of the very early stage of the investigation, the lack of time to adequately prepare, and the uncertainty regarding the nature and scope of the investigation, we advised Lord Black that he should exercise his constitutional right not to testify," said his attorney John Warden.

After mounting pressure from investors, Black resigned last month as chief executive of Hollinger International -- owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and Britain's Telegraph Newspapers -- although he remains as chairman of the company and its closely-held parent, Hollinger Incorporated.

The SEC is eager to know more about the payment by third parties to Black and certain of his business lieutenants totalling $32 million (€25.78m; £18.15m), these payments allegedly unauthorized by Hollinger's board.

Hollinger's affairs are also under scrutiny by the US Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation [WAMN: 18-Dec-03]. Black, however, vigorously denies any malfeasance and neither he nor any other person associated with Hollinger has been charged with wrongdoing. "There has been no concealment," he told reporters last month.

• Separately, Jack Boultbee, a former senior vice-president of Hollinger, who is seeking C$16m from the company for wrongful dismissal, bitterly criticized the special committee set up by the company to investigate its affairs.

After receiving some $600,000 in fees unauthorized by Hollinger's board, Boultbee claims he was given an "abrupt ultimatum" by lawyers working on behalf of the special committee to "resign . . . or be immediately terminated".

His lawsuit claims that the decision to fire him was made "weeks prior to the completion of the special investigation or the completion of the special committee's report", thereby "shattering" Boultbee's expectation of a "fair, reasonable and impartial treatment by the special committee and Hollinger International".

He is the only Hollinger executive yet to be fired as a result of the special investigation.

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