Conrad Black trial: 400 apply for press passes

More than 400 journalists have applied for Press passes to cover the trial of former Telegraph owner Conrad Black which opens in Chicago today.

That's almost as many as covered the trial of OJ Simpson a decade ago. Which means the Conrad Black case, although not the trial of the century, could well be the trial of the year.

The trial is taking place in Chicago because the mid-west American city was the headquarters of Hollinger International, the company which Black is accused of defrauding. If he is found guilty Black could face up to 50 years in jail.

One of the first to testify against him when the trial begins is expected to be Gordon Paris, the company executive who initiated the investigation into Black's alleged misdemeanors which led to his dethronement from the newspaper empire. Paris is expected to testify that Black took millions of dollars of unauthorized payments from investors in the company. And then broke his word that he would reimburse the money.

The chief prosecutor is an American lawyer Patrick Fitzgerald who made headlines last week when he secured the conviction of Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney for perjury and obstruction of justice and lying to investigators probing who revealed the identity of a secret CIA agent.

Black's trial is expected to last at least four months. Adding to the circus-like atmosphere will be the number of celebrities expected to be called as witnesses.

They include former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and New York's celebrity real estate developer Donald Trump. Other witnesses are expected to include Black's former right hand man David Radler, who has already pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the current case.

Lord Black's wife, former Canadian journalist, Barbara Amiel, is expect to be in court when the trial opens. Also his three children from his previous arriage.

In his native Canada the trial is expected to get major coverage. In a recent poll more than 50 per cent said they would be following the trial closely. Canadians over the age of 55 said they are most interested. Younger Canadians admitted they were "somewhat indifferent". One question not yet answered is whether the former head of the publishing empire will insist on being called Lord Black when the trail opens. In 2001 Black gave up his Canadian citizenship in order to accept a British peerage.


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