Trial Details Black's Lavish Living

By Patricia Hurtado
Bloomberg News
Saturday, May 26, 2007

As chairman of Hollinger International, Conrad Black lived a lifestyle so lavish that he needed two Park Avenue apartments -- one for him and one for his servants.

His wife, Barbara Amiel Black, had five closets for her evening gowns, $500 shoes and $7,000 handbags in their London townhouse. His chauffeur had a corporate American Express card he used to shop for the couple.

In a criminal trial so far dominated by lawyers parsing the language of corporate filings, what may stick with jurors most are details prosecutors are presenting of the Blacks' personal spending and alleged abuse of company perks. The couple's lifestyle may emerge as a key theme in the remaining weeks of Black's fraud and racketeering trial in Chicago.

"Black's expense practices evidence his attitude that there was no need to distinguish between what belonged to the company and what belonged to the Blacks," said a 2004 report by former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Richard Breeden, who was asked by Hollinger's board to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by Black and other executives. "In Hollinger's world, everything belonged to the Blacks."

Black, 62, and three co-defendants are charged with stealing $60 million from Hollinger. Prosecutors say the former chief executive treated the company as his personal "piggy bank" from 1997 to 2003.

Amiel Black, 66, a columnist for Canadian magazines, hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing. Prosecutors say Black, who married her in 1992, abused corporate perquisites by billing Hollinger for thousands of their personal expenses. Amiel Black didn't respond to calls to her lawyers seeking comment. Black declined to comment for this article.

Black's allegedly fraudulent acts peaked in late 2000, as did the couple's spending, according to court records. On Nov. 16, 2000, Hollinger completed its $2.1 billion sale of Canadian newspapers to Winnipeg-based CanWest Global Communications.

Prosecutors allege that Black helped divert $51.8 million of the sale proceeds and took $11.9 million for himself.

Five days after the asset sale to CanWest closed, the Blacks were shopping on London's New Bond Street, a half-mile-long roadway lined with exclusive stores, including Chanel, Hermes and Cartier.

On Nov. 21, 2000, the couple stopped at Graff Diamonds, a jeweler specializing in large, precious stones, where they spent $2.6 million on a 26-carat diamond ring, according to court documents. Later that day, the Blacks went to S.J. Phillips, which specializes in antique jewelry. Black spent $604,000 at Phillips on what court documents describe as an "antique pearl and diamond bow brooch."

In a 2003 article for the Canadian women's magazine Fashion Quarterly, Amiel Black wrote about her fondness for both stores and said she had acquired a taste for expensive jewelry: "I found I really liked the stuff," she wrote. She also wrote that after marrying Black, she "vaulted into circles where, for some people, jewelry is a defining attribute, rather like your intelligence or the number of residences you have."

Prosecutors say Black billed Hollinger $1.4 million from 1997 to 2003 to pay the staff of his four homes, including an 11-bedroom townhouse in London, a Toronto mansion on 12 acres, an oceanfront estate in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Manhattan apartments.

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