Lawyers for jailed former newspaper mogul Conrad Black told a federal appeals court that prosecutors failed to prove he tried to hide key documents, and they also disputed the fairness of jury instructions.
“This is the weakest case I’ve seen in 45 years of law practice,” Black defense attorney Andrew Frey argued Thursday before a three-judge panel from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The judges pushed back, with Judge Richard A. Posner questioning Frey about how the defense described an arrangement in which Black, the 63-year-old British baron known as Lord Black of Crossharbour, and two other defendants received $5.5 million.
“You’re saying it’s management fees recharacterized as non-competition fees for Canadian tax purposes,” Posner said. “It can’t be both.”
Black is serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence on charges of swindling shareholders of the former Hollinger International media empire. In July, a federal jury found him guilty of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. He was acquitted of nine other counts.
Black was accused of siphoning off millions of dollars belonging to Hollinger shareholders through what were billed as non-compete payments from buyers of community newspapers owned by the company, now called Sun-Times Media Group.
Jurors convicted Black of obstruction of justice after seeing a videotape of the newspaper mogul hauling boxes of documents out of the Toronto office and loading them into his car. Prosecutors said he was trying to hide evidence of financial wrongdoing from Securities and Exchange Commission investigators.
But Frey said Thursday the prosecution did not show Black intended to destroy or conceal any documents.
Posner called Black’s timing for removing the documents “bizarre.”
The defense also argued that U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve did not give fair instructions to the jury.
Lead prosecutor Eric Sussman said Thursday he was confident the panel would agree with the trial judge and the jury and uphold the convictions.
The judges could make a decision in four to six weeks, Frey said.