In an exclusive interview Tuesday evening, Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour made it very clear to UK newspaper The Times that he has no intention of relinquishing control of his debt-beset media group Hollinger International – owner of a chain of newspapers including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and Britain’s Daily and Sunday Telegraph.
The interview in New York followed Monday’s formal warning that Hollinger’s profits are set to take a 17% dive in the current fiscal [WAMN: 19-Aug-03].
The Canadian-born newspaper tycoon – who in 2002 renounced his citizenship to accept a British peerage along with the commercial advantages nobility confers – appeared to renege on a promise made at the group’s annual meeting in May that he would change Hollinger's highly preferential voting structure.
The meeting, at which the sole representative of the press was the Wall Street Journal, heard that Black had agreed in principle to abolish Hollinger’s super-voting Class B shares – a move that would substantially neuter His Lordship’s control over the publicly-quoted company. [WAMN: 23-May-03].
Within days of the meeting Black appeared to be honouring the undertaking and Hollinger seemingly committed itself to phasing out the ‘B’ shares.
It announced that the stock (which wields ten votes per share and accounts for 67% of Hollinger’s voting power) “would be amended to allocate 35% per cent of the voting power of Hollinger” for three and a half years. Following which it would be trimmed to two votes a share for a period of eighteen months, then converted share for share into ‘Class A’ shares.
But according to yesterday’s interview, Lord Black is still busily mulling the matter three months on. “I never had any intention of relinquishing control of Hollinger,” he insisted. “That was a misunderstanding. I said we would consider phasing out the super voting rights of ‘Class B’ shares [WAMN's italics].”
The peer also vented his spleen at the cost of the independent investigation into Hollinger demanded by New York investment firm Tweedy Browne, owner of nearly 18% of Hollinger stock.
Tweedy, along with other investors, is unhappy at the payment of $74 million (€66.75m; £46.71m) by third parties to Black and other Hollinger directors [WAMN: 19-Aug-03] rather than to the company itself.
Huffed His Lordship: “It’s not just the insurance, it’s these lawyers that charge $1,000 an hour to do these ridiculously monotonous things.”
Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff