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Black invokes wife's health in bid to return to Toronto

Conrad Black watches as his wife Barbara Amiel is checked after arriving at the Dirksen Federal Building to hear the terms of his bail July 23, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson/Scott Olson/Getty Images

He gave up his Canadian citizenship to sit in Britain's House of Lords and travelled the world during his business career. But now Conrad Black, stretched financially and invoking his wife's poor health, is pulling out all the stops to return home to Toronto.

"He has a home in Canada," Lord Black's lawyer Miguel Estrada told federal judge Amy St. Eve during a hearing on Friday to set his bail conditions.

Mr. Estrada implored Judge St. Eve to allow Lord Black to return to his Toronto estate. He said Barbara Amiel-Black suffers from "some health issues" that make it hard to spend summers in Florida, where the couple owns a mansion in Palm Beach. The $30-million (U.S.) oceanfront property "is not a suitable home in her condition," Mr. Estrada said without providing details. The court should allow Lord Black to return to Toronto where his "family and doctors are present."

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Lady Black has suffered for years from of a painful disease called dermatomyositis, which inflames muscles and skin.

In a 2006 interview with Homemakers magazine, she said the disease "spikes and attacks the skin and the muscles, including the heart, lungs and throat." The treatment, she added, requires her to spend a couple of days in hospital every three weeks.

Compelling as they were, Mr. Estrada's arguments fell largely flat as Judge St. Eve focused on Lord Black's financial status and openly questioned the information he was supposed to provide the court under the terms of his bail.

"There is a lot of uncertainty," Judge St. Eve told Mr. Estrada, referring to Lord Black's disclosures. "I want more certainty than this. I need more to make a fully informed decision."

Lord Black has been released on an unsecured $2-million bond posted by his friend Roger Hertog, a New York businessman. Judge St. Eve wanted to know if Lord Black had any assets he could post. Mr. Estrada indicated there was nothing.

The court has been told Lord Black's Palm Beach property is under the control of a Connecticut based investment firm and it is up for sale. His Toronto home, worth more than $10-million, is tied up by an asset freeze in Canada related to a civil lawsuit.

Judge St. Eve said she wanted more information and instructed Lord Black to come up with a "complete and thorough financial affidavit." She gave Mr. Estrada until Aug. 16 to finalize the paperwork, and told Lord Black to appear before her then for a final decision on whether he can leave the United States. Until then, she ordered him to stay in the country and turn over his British passport, which has expired. At one point, she turned to Lord Black directly and instructed him on his bail conditions, taking him through each term. His response each time was a clear: "Yes, your honour."

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This isn't the first time Lord Black's finances have complicated his bail. Before his trial began, prosecutors repeatedly questioned his financial disclosures, alleging in some instances that he had lied. At that time, Lord Black had been released on a $20-million bond secured by his Palm Beach home. Judge St. Eve eventually raised the bail by $1-million, also secured by the Florida mansion.

Throughout Friday's hearing, Lord Black appeared in good spirits. Looking trim in a blue suit and salmon coloured tie, he waved to reporters on his way into court and chatted briefly with onlookers. When one reporter asked how he was doing, he replied: " Très bien."

Lady Black was close by her husband during the hearing. Dressed in a sharp jacket and skirt, with a flowing Chanel scarf, she also appeared in good humour and shared a few smiles with Lord Black before Judge St. Eve started the proceedings.

Judge St. Eve's 12th floor courtroom in a downtown Chicago office tower is all too familiar to the couple. Over the past five years, Lord Black has been indicted, tried and sentenced in this court by Judge St. Eve. As he walked into the courtroom on Friday for the first time since being released from prison this week, Lord Black took up his old seat at the defence table, looked around and started going over legal papers. Lady Black took up her familiar place as well, a seat in a front-row pew directly behind her husband and next to the aisle.

Even though Lord Black he can't yet return to Canada, he and his wife looked to be enjoying the fact that he is out of jail and back with his family. That was evident when the couple left the court, holding hands tightly.

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