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Prosecutor: Black stole, 'plain and simple'

Conrad Black arrives at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago yesterday. Conrad Black arrives at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago yesterday. (John Gress/Reuters)

CHICAGO -- A prosecutor accused media mogul Conrad Black and three former Hollinger International newspaper executives yesterday of systematically stealing $60 million from the company and creating an elaborate but bogus paper trail to hide the theft from shareholders.

"It was stealing, plain and simple," Assistant US Attorney Julie B. Ruder said as closing arguments got underway at the Canadian-born British lord's three-month racketeering and fraud trial. She told jurors that it "will be your job to expose this cover story for the lie that it is."

"We're not here because somebody made a mistake, we're not here because somebody forgot to dot the i's or cross the t's," Ruder said as Black looked on without any sign of emotion. She said the four defendants "decided on their own to take a slice of the company's profits."

As closing arguments began, one juror was missing. It was not clear why, and lawyers declined to discuss the absence. US District Judge Amy J. St. Eve held a long conference with the attorneys before court got underway yesterday.

Black, 62, and three other former executives of the Hollinger International Inc. newspaper empire are accused of pocketing $60 million that should have gone to the shareholders, largely through the sale of hundreds of Hollinger-owned US and Canadian community newspapers.

Millions of dollars were paid in exchange for promises that Hollinger would not compete with the new owners.

"Noncompete" payments are common in the industry, but prosecutors say the money belonged to shareholders.

Hollinger did get the bulk of the money, but much of it went to Black and other executives and two Canadian companies he owned.

Also on trial are former Hollinger vice presidents John Boultbee and Peter Y. Atkinson and former corporate counsel Mark Kipnis. Like Black, Boultbee, and Atkinson are Canadians, while Kipnis is a Chicago lawyer.

Black, Boultbee and Atkinson shared the noncompete payments, which are tax free in Canada. Kipnis is accused of helping to arrange the deals.

Black and his co defendants deny they did anything illegal.

St. Eve has set all week for closing arguments. Jury deliberations are due to get underway next week.

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