CHICAGO: Defense lawyers for Lord Conrad Black opened their case in the fallen media mogul's racketeering and fraud trial by calling one of his former secretaries to the witness stand.

Joan Maida had been Black's secretary since 1994, and was questioned about 13 boxes of documents which the disgraced peer is alleged to have taken from the headquarters of Hollinger International [H-Intl] in violation of a court order.

As reported last week, the prosecution had previously shown footage from 2005 of Black loading the boxes into a limousine. He was forced to return these before the trial began.

Maida told the court that the boxes had included personal files and pictures, but that she had not told Black about what they contained, and he had not looked at their contents.

She also stated that she had not known if he was allowed to take the boxes, and that they had not discussed whether doing so may be an illegal act.

Black and three other H-Intl executives deny charges of defrauding company shareholders of some $60 million (€44m; £30.1m) following the sale of a number of the company's newspapers.

The defense is expected to take no more than a fortnight to make its case, after hearing almost three months of evidence from the prosecution.

Black faces up to 101 years in prison and a huge fine if found guilty, but is not expected to take the stand. John Boultbee, Peter Atkinson and Mark Kipnis all face lesser charges.

Data sourced from BBC Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff