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Prosecutor calls Black a liar who stole millions

Prosecutor Julie Ruder came out swinging against Conrad Black yesterday calling him a liar who systematically stole millions of dollars from Hollinger International Inc.'s shareholders because he felt he was above the rules.

"When Conrad Black uses other people's money and lies about it and conceals it, ... that is a crime," Ms. Ruder told jurors during daylong closing arguments. "He is taking [shareholders']money and using it for his own purposes and he couldn't care less."

Ms. Ruder spent seven hours making the prosecution's case against Lord Black and three other former executives of Hollinger. They have been on trial for three months on a variety of criminal charges related to allegations they stole more than $60-million (U.S.).

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Ms. Ruder urged jurors to do the right thing for Hollinger's burned investors. "Make it matter for the shareholders. Make it matter for the victims of this crime," she said. "They are guilty. Find them guilty."

She traced the case back to 1999, when Lord Black made a decision to start selling some of Hollinger's newspaper titles. Lord Black and David Radler, his long-time partner at Hollinger, "used this decision as an opportunity to steal."

They did that by inserting themselves and others into non-competition agreements that were part of the sales even though the buyers did not want them included. Then they skimmed off payments related to those agreements, she said.

In one case, she said, there was no sale at all and the men simply created a "dummy" non-competition agreement with a Hollinger subsidiary. "This is nonsense," Ms. Ruder told the jury. "Conrad Black is paying himself not to compete with himself."

To perpetuate their plan, Ms. Ruder said Lord Black and the others created a paper trail and lied to the audit committee of the company's board of directors. "Every single one of these defendants had a chance to step up to the audit committee and tell them the truth," she said. "They all chose to lie."

She acknowledged that the audit committee members who testified at the trial, including former Illinois governor James Thompson, failed shareholders by not detecting the fraud. Mr. Thompson and the other committee members, Marie Josée Kravis and Richard Burt, said they did not closely read company filings that outlined the payments.

But the committee's biggest failing "was they trusted these guys way too much," she added, pointing toward Lord Black and the others.

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She also cautioned the jury to treat Mr. Radler's testimony carefully. Mr. Radler testified for prosecutors as part of a plea agreement. Ms. Ruder said while jurors should be skeptical about Mr. Radler, they should weigh his testimony against other evidence. "Conrad Black was just as committed to lying about this scheme as David Radler."

Ms. Ruder implored the jury to look behind company documents. "It doesn't matter that it is on the books and records. It doesn't matter that there is a paper trail," she said. "So what? That's not what this is about. It's about the 'why?' There was no reason for Hollinger International shareholders to lose this money."

The paper trail was simply a cover story, she said.

Noting that defence lawyers will present their arguments this week, starting today with Lord Black's attorneys, Ms. Ruder urged jurors not to fall for the cover story.

*****

Bring your family to court day Conrad Black didn't seem phased by the pounding he was taking in the courtroom yesterday from prosecutor Julie Ruder.

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During a break from Ms. Ruder's closing arguments, Lord Black autographed a couple of his books, including his new biography of former U.S. president Richard Nixon. Two of Lord Black's books were displayed on a table just outside the courtroom.

In court, Lord Black was joined by his wife, Barbara Amiel, and all three of his children, Alana, James and Jonathan.

It was the first time all of the family members had been in the court. Lord Black even took time to introduce his son James to one of the United States marshals who provide security for the court.

Lady Black's ex-husband, George Jonas, also showed up. Mr. Jonas sat next to Lady Black for much of the day but in the afternoon he moved over to the seating reserved for the news media.

The Blacks weren't the only family members on site yesterday. Ms. Ruder's father was in attendance as were the parents of lead prosecutor Eric Sussman. They sat in the front row of a section reserved for the prosecution.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, also sat in for most of Ms. Ruder's presentation. He declined to comment other than to say she was doing a fine job.

The trial did lose one juror yesterday, a woman who sat in the first row and took copious notes.

Judge Amy St. Eve met privately with lawyers before court proceedings began to alert them about the juror.

She did not explain publicly why the juror was dismissed and none of the lawyers would comment.

It is believed the woman was a middle manager who had to commute to the court from quite a distance. However, she is not believed to be one of two jurors who had sick relatives.

There are now 15 jurors: four men and 11 women.

Paul Waldie

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