Judge allows Black aides' testimony in fraud trial

A US judge has given prosecutors permission to put alleged co-conspirators on the witness stand to tell inside details of former Daily Telegraph boss Conrad Black's role in an alleged £42 million fraud.

US District Judge Amy St Eve ruled that federal prosecutors had shown a conspiracy more likely than not existed within the Hollinger International publishing empire, and thus they could use such testimony against Black.

The testimony is likely to include that of David Radler — Black's former top aide — and dozens of others entangled in the complex matter. Radler now is co-operating with the government and is expected to be the star witness for the prosecution.

Testimony concerning what a defendant said is generally considered hearsay and prosecutors are for the most part barred from presenting it to jurors.

But hearsay evidence from co-conspirators is allowed if prosecutors can prove a conspiracy existed. The idea is that the only way to prove the case is with testimony from someone on the inside of the plot.

The Black case is doubly complicated because no one is charged with conspiracy — but the government is saying a conspiracy existed anyway. Prosecutors asked the court to allow such testimony on that basis.

But St Eve stopped short of giving prosecutors blanket permission to use co-conspirator testimony, ruling some statements out of bounds and saying she would rule on others once the trial got under way.

The trial of Black, the former Hollinger chairman, and three other company executives is expected to last three months.

They are accused of illegally accepting payments from companies that bought hundreds of community newspapers in the US and Canada that were owned by Hollinger. The payments were in exchange for promises not to compete with the buyers in markets where the papers circulated, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors say the payments should have gone to Hollinger shareholders and not into the pockets of the four defendants.

Black has insisted that he will be "vindicated" by his fraud trial and has hit back at his accusers in a piece for Tatler magazine.

The Canadian billionaire, who denies the charges, faces a substantial jail term if convicted on all counts.

But the former tycoon has written in the magazine that he has "full faith in the outcome" of the trial.

He said: "I know I am innocent of the allegations against me, as does almost anyone who actually knows me, and I am about to prove it."

He aded: "I have never had the slightest doubt of the outcome of a fair trial, knowing that the judgment of the legality of my actions will lie in the hands of 12 American citizens, in one of that country's greatest cities, more or less at the bar of Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow."

Lord Black said the months leading up to the trial had been "very tiresome," but added: "physically, I feel as I did 35 years ago."

He wrote: "After 16 months, the court is about to try the case. Great psychological resilience and considerable financial resources and agility have been required just to survive to the opening of the trial."

Black also hit out at the way his case had been treated, saying: "The presumption of innocence is the basis of our criminal justice system in the UK, Canada and the US and the treatment of accused people is one of the most reliable criteria of the decency of any civilised society.

"In practice, the presumption of innocence in this case has been a risible fiction until we got to the court."

"When we are acquitted, the question of the justification for this orgy of self-directed largesse will finally replace, as the real issue, the malignant canard of possible criminal behaviour by the present defendants.

"And my libel suits, the largest in Canadian history at over $3 billion, especially those against my accusers on the Special Committee, which have been patiently waiting like racehorses at the starting gates, will finally proceed."

The article appears in the new issue of Tatler, on sale today.

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