Source AP ©

Conrad Black trial gets new witness

Hollinger International newspaper's former second-in-command took the witness stand Monday to begin testimony that federal prosecutors hope clinches their racketeering and fraud case against media mogul Conrad Black.

F. David Radler, 64, who has pleaded guilty to fraud and is awaiting his prison sentence, is expected to be the government's star witness in Black's trial on charges of swindling Hollinger out of $84 million (61.7 million EUR).

"I took money from Hollinger in a way that isn't allowed," he told the jury after settling into the witness box.

He said he met Black in 1969 and immediately wanted to go into partnership with him as co-owners of a small English-language newspaper in the French-speaking community of Sherbrooke, Quebec.

"I was impressed with Mr. Black's knowledge and his ability and I thought that he would be a great partner to have," Radler testified.

Lead prosecutor Eric H. Sussman began taking Radler through his history with Black from the beginning of a relationship that eventually would become one of the largest newspaper holding companies in the world: Hollinger International Inc.

Black would become chairman and Radler president and chief operating officer of the media empire.

Black, 62, is charged with swindling Hollinger International out of $84 million (61.7 million EUR), mainly by selling hundreds of community newspapers in the United States and Canada and pocketing payments from the purchasers.

The payments were in exchange for promises from Black and fellow Hollinger executives not to move back into the circulation areas of the newspapers to compete with the new owners.

Such "non-compete" payments are common in the industry but federal prosecutors say that the money belonged to Hollinger International shareholders and that Black and other executives had no right to take it.

Black and co-defendants John Boultbee, Peter Atkinson and Mark Kipnis contend that they did nothing illegal.