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Lord Black fraud trial to begin

The trial of media tycoon Lord Conrad Black is due to get under way at a US federal court in Chicago.

Lord Black faces fraud and racketeering charges, including claims he diverted $84 million (£44 million) from the company he once ran to fund an extravagant lifestyle. If convicted, the former boss of media group Hollinger International and one-time owner of the Daily Telegraph could be jailed for up to 101 years. Lord Black, 62, and three co-defendants have denied the charges against them. Amid a frenzy of media interest, court officials are expected to begin the process of jury selection on Wednesday. Along with Lord Black, federal prosecutors have issued charges against Jack Boultbee, 63, the former CFO of Hollinger Inc, the firm which controlled and managed Hollinger International; Peter Atkinson, 59, general counsel for Hollinger Inc; and Mark Kipnis, 60, corporate counsel for Hollinger International.

David Radler, a former business associate of Lord Black, has cut a deal with prosecutors and will be the main witness against the tycoon, in return for a reduced 29-month jail term. Lord Black, an outspoken businessman who is married to Canadian journalist Barbara Amiel, once presided over the world's third-biggest newspaper publishing company. The titles in his empire ranged from the UK's Daily Telegraph to the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times. But the Canadian-born tycoon was forced to quit as CEO of Hollinger International, now named Sun-Times Media Group, after shareholders accused him of siphoning off millions of dollars in unauthorised payments to himself.

Lord Black will face accusations he used company funds to pay for a lavish birthday party for his wife, as well as designer handbags, opera tickets and the refurbishment of a Rolls-Royce. "He managed the company for his own benefit and had a royal, almost Louis XIV attitude towards his shareholders," said Ross Albert, a principal at the Atlanta-based law firm Morris, Manning & Martin. "The question is, did his personality and sense of entitlement contribute to misconduct?" In an article published on Saturday for Canada's National Post newspaper, entitled "I am not afraid", Lord Black said he was confident that the trial would find in his favor.

„As I know the facts and believe in the fairness of 12 randomly selected Americans, I am confident of the outcome,” he wrote in the paper he previously founded. Lord Black ran Hollinger International for eight years before stepping down in November 2003. He renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001, becoming a British citizen so he could take up a seat in the House of Lords. (BBC NEWS)