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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 15:01 GMT
Telegraph verdict boosts Desmond
Desmond photomontage
Will Mr Desmond take over the Telegraph?
Express boss Richard Desmond believes he has the "trump card" in any open auction for the Daily Telegraph.

The comments, by a spokeswoman for Mr Desmond, come after a US judge blocked media tycoon Conrad Black's own proposed sale of the Telegraph and other Hollinger International titles.

Lord Black, the former chairman of Hollinger International, had agreed to sell up to the Barclay brothers.

But a US judge ruled the titles were not his to sell.

Olive branch

The judge, Leo Strine, said Lord Black's 260m deal to sell the titles to media and property billionaires the Barclay twins injured other Hollinger International shareholders.

Black had breached his fiduciary and contractual duties persistently and seriously
Judge Leo Strine

His ruling leaves Hollinger International free to auction its newspaper portfolio, which includes the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, a process analysts say could fetch up to 600m.

In an apparent olive branch to shareholders, Lord Black said while he "respectfully" disagreed with the judge's ruling it "points the way to a realisation of full value for shareholders" by allowing a formal sale process to go ahead.

Earlier this year, Lord Black was fired by Hollinger International after being accused of siphoning off millions of pounds of the company's funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.

Printing press

The Barclay brothers have yet to comment on whether they will now enter a wider auction for the titles.

But a spokeswoman for Richard Desmond said he believed he had the "trump card".

The trump card in question is his co-ownership of a print works with the Telegraph Group - the West Ferry plant in East London.

The site currently prints both Mr Desmond's Express titles and the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.

The Daily Mail and General Trust and several corporate buy out groups are also thought to be interested in buying the Telegraph and other Hollinger titles.

Blunt criticism

In a strongly worded ruling after the court case, Judge Leo Strine said Lord Black had "breached his fiduciary and contractual duties persistently and seriously".

The auction for the Telegraph continues again...and we believe West Ferry remains the trump card
Spokeswoman for Richard Desmond
Lord Black's behaviour "threatens grave injury" to Hollinger International, and to the other shareholders in the newspaper group, the judge added.

It is not yet known whether Lord Black will appeal.

In a separate lawsuit Hollinger International is suing Lord Black for $200m (108m), after an internal inquiry found Lord Black had received unauthorised payments from the company late last year.

Lord Black has denied any wrongdoing.

The BBC's Rory Cellan Jones
"Conrad Black has seen his plans for a quick sale scuppered and his behaviour condemned"

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