Hollinger International [H-Intl] , the company formerly chaired and dominated by Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour, announced earlier this week it had put on ice all transactions relating to stock options.

This, it explained, was due to its failure to file the company's annual report with US regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission. But this omission was not due to forgetfulness, insisted H-Intl, but to its ongoing battle with Black's investment vehicle Ravelston Management.

In a stroke of commercial legerdemain worthy of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli himself, Black's privately held Ravelston controls Hollinger Incorporated [H-Inc], a company publicly listed in Toronto … which in turn holds a 26% stake in H-Intl … which via an ingenious contrivance of preferential voting rights confers a 73% voting interest in US-listed H-Intl.

From their opposing poles, H-Intl and Ravelston are in bitter dispute over massive 'management fees', purportedly due from the former to the latter. Failure to agree this matter is the reason offered by H-Intl for the delay in filing its annual report.

In reality the fees issue is yet another pawn in the relentless battle between the Black camp and other investors in his labyrinthine publishing empire. Ravelston evp Peter White, who also doubles as chief operating officer of H-Inc, insists that Ravelston continues to provide management services to H-Intl. The while, H-Inc is co-operating with auditors KPMG to prepare financial statements.

Claims White: "Ravelston has welcomed . . . KPMG into its Toronto premises for many weeks. Any failure on the part of Hollinger International to file its annual report on time will be entirely due to matters internal to that company."

Meantime, H-Intl continues with its efforts to sell-off the publishing businesses in whole or part. His Lordship is equally vigorous in his efforts to prevent this.

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