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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
Defence case opens in Black trial
Conrad Black
Conrad Black says all the payments in question were approved
Defence lawyers have begun their case in Conrad Black's fraud trial with a former secretary defending his actions over the alleged removal of evidence.

Joan Maida said she did not tell her boss what was in boxes removed from Lord Black's offices in 2005 nor did the tycoon look at their contents.

Prosecutors claim documents were removed without court approval and evidence could have been tampered with.

Lord Black and his co-defendants deny charges of fraud and racketeering.

Office move

They are accused of diverting up to $60m in funds from the sale of newspaper assets by Hollinger International for their own personal benefit.

Prosecutors dropped a single count of money laundering against Lord Black on Wednesday.

Criminal charges
15 charges of fraud
one of obstruction of justice
one of racketeering

Federal prosecutors allege Lord Black
Fraudulently received non-compete fees from the sale of Hollinger International assets
Deprived the company of his honest services
Repeatedly benefited himself at the expense of the company and its public shareholders through the abuse of company perks

Other executives on trial
John Boultbee - former chief financial officer
Peter Atkinson - former general counsel
Mark Kipnis - former corporate counsel and secretary

Questioning of defence witnesses began on Thursday after the prosecution wrapped up its case after 11 weeks of testimony.

Ms Maida, Lord Black's secretary since 1994, was asked about a sequence of events in May 2005 when Lord Black removed 13 boxes from a Toronto office during an office move.

Prosecutors said the incident occurred after US regulators had told Lord Black's lawyers that he would have to give up some of his records.

They also claim his actions were in violation of a court order stating nothing could be removed from the premises without official permission.

Ms Maida said she did not know whether her boss was authorised to take the boxes.

But she stated that she did not talk to Lord Black about their contents - which she said included personal files and pictures - or discuss any subpoena from regulators.

Lord Black is not expected to take the stand in his own defence.

If convicted, he faces up to 101 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. A verdict is expected next month.

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