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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 08:24 GMT
Has Black's luck finally run out?
By Jeff Randall

Lord Black
Lord Black projected a sense of entitlement

Once in a blue moon, a business story emerges that is so full of human drama it feels as if the plot has been concocted by an over-ambitious novelist.

The remarkable fall of Conrad Black, the publishing tycoon, who goes on trial in Chicago this week on charges of criminal fraud, is a tale of greed, delusion and betrayal.

Throughout the filming of my documentary about Black for the Money Programme, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't fiction: the events and cast list are very real.

Lord Black's predicament serves as a warning to those whose preferred zone of activity is permanently close to the edge.

Extraordinary rewards come with commensurate risk.

A life behind bars?

The complicated case against Black can be boiled down to a single accusation: he treated a publicly-quoted company, Hollinger International, as if it was his private cash box.

He allegedly took money - in eye-watering quantities - that wasn't all his. Outside investors were short-changed.

If Black is found guilty, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Not that Black is contemplating such a fate. He denies all accusations of wrongdoing and promises a robust defence.

Black, a master of bombast, will enter court with guns blazing.

Sense of entitlement

I first met Conrad in the mid-1980s, when he bought Telegraph newspapers, where I was working as a City reporter. He won't remember that day, but I cannot forget it.

The man had a natural presence. Call it ego, confidence, arrogance, whatever you like. The fact is, when he entered a room he filled it. He was the boss in every sense.

Looking back, I suppose you could say he exuded a sense of entitlement. The glitz, glamour and good times that came with being a press baron were, he believed, his by right.

Follow the money

For many years, Black, with his show-stopping wife, Barbara Amiel, enjoyed a life of luxury in Toronto (his native city), London, New York and Palm Beach.

Private jets, ritzy parties, immense homes with brigades of staff told the world that he had arrived.

But how did Black pay for them? Where did all his money come from? Did he and a few close chums have their hands in the Hollinger till? Has Conrad's luck finally run out?

The answers to these questions, as the courtroom drama unfolds, will decide Black's fate.

Jeff Randall is Editor-at-Large of the Daily Telegraph

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