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Hollinger accuses Lord Black of looting company coffers

LONDON - Lord Conrad Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel, have been accused of looting Hollinger International to fund a luxury lifestyle after a 14-month investigation by Hollinger.

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Lord Black is accused of using Hollinger International as a "piggybank" to pay for private jets, club memberships and cars.

This was the conclusion of a special committee of Hollinger that told of a "corporate kleptocracy" in a filing to the US Securities & Exchange Commission.

The report said that behind the misappropriation of company funds were, on Lord Black's part, "insatiable demands for cash from Black, whether to prop up his empire or to fuel his political and social ambitions in multiple countries," the report said.

It was not just Lord Black misusing funds, his wife Amiel and former chief operating officer David Radler and other former executives of Hollinger also stand accused of pocketing more than $400m (£222m) from Hollinger International.

The 500-page report from the company, which still owns the Chicago Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post after selling off the Telegraph Group, details how a staggering 95.2% of the company's adjusted net income from 1997 to 2003 was spent.

"Hollinger was a company where abusive practices were inextricably linked to every major development or action," the report said.

Among the expenses charged to Hollinger are: $42,870 for Lady Black's birthday party at La Grenouille in New York; $90,000 to refurbish a Rolls Royce; $24,950 for "summer drinks"; and $2,463 for jogging kit for Amiel.

The report also said that executives were wrongfully paid nearly $200m in "unjustifiable" fees.

In a statement, Ravelston, which ran Hollinger International through its control of Hollinger Inc, dismissed the report and said that it was laced with outright lies.

"The report is full of so many factual and tainting misrepresentations and inaccuracies that it is not practical to address them in their entirety here," Ravelston said.

The investigation's results follow reports that the SEC had issued a Wells Notice to the company and a similar notice to some of its directors and officers. A Wells Notice indicates that the SEC will accuse the company of wrongdoing in a civil action, and gives the chance for the company to contest the action.

Hollinger has said that it will respond to the SEC notice, but has not as yet.

Meanwhile, a Canadian TV documentary called 'Citizen Black' is due to air in Canada. Media commentator Roy Greenslade said in yesterday's Guardian that "[It becomes clear] that Black is not on this planet. He does not seem to understand why everyone -- fellow directors, judges, investors, financial regulators and journalists -- should be so upset with him."

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