Black's lawyer grills first witness in fraud trial

Former British media mogul Conrad Black's defence lawyer has grilled the first witness in his £42m fraud trial about hefty pay cheques he received from the Hollinger International newspaper empire.

Defence lawyer Edward Greenspan sought to portray investment banker Gordon Paris as being just as drenched in corporate opulence as Black, who is accused of swindling Hollinger out of £42 million.

His cross examination came a day after prosecutors put Paris on the stand to show that Black was well informed about the finances of the company he is accused of swindling.

Paris joined Hollinger International's board in 2003 at Black's request to conduct an investigation of management fees, payments and other matters that already were raising shareholder concern.

"I'm going to suggest to you that you were making $15,805 (£8,300) a day in '05," Greenspan told Paris, who took command of Hollinger after the company ousted its long-time president and CEO amid shareholder complaints.

Greenspan never got an answer to his question because judge Amy St Eve sustained an objection to the question. But he did get Paris to admit that he was paid $511,375 (£260,000) by Hollinger in 2003.

Canadian-born Black, now 62, built Hollinger from a single paper into an international conglomerate that owned the Chicago Sun-Times, the Toronto-based National Post, the Jerusalem Post and the Daily Telegraph, as well as hundreds of community papers across North America. All of the big papers except the Sun-Times have been sold and the name of the company was since changed to Sun-Times Media Group.

Black and three other men are charged with swindling Hollinger out of millions of dollars by selling off hundreds of the community newspapers and pocketing payments from the buyers.

Black's lawyers maintain that nothing he did was illegal and any misdeeds were the fault of his aide, David Radler, who has made a deal with the US government and is now its star witness.

Prosecutors called Paris to the stand to set the stage for what is expected to be a complex 12- to 16-week trial, and to testify to Black's strong control of the company and its far-flung financial operations.

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