Ex-Illinois Gov. Thompson Says He Never Approved Hollinger Payments

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Former Gov. James R. Thompson wrapped up three grueling days on the witness stand Thursday with an emotional denial that he approved millions of dollars in payments now at the heart of the racketeering and fraud case against media mogul Conrad Black.

Thompson was back on the hot seat one day after hearing himself accused by Black defense attorney Edward Greenspan of approving the payments when he was chairman of the Hollinger International Inc. audit committee — the chief financial watchdog of Black’s sprawling newspaper conglomerate.

“He was saying to me that I had lied to this jury about not approving those payments,” the Republican former governor said in response to a question from lead prosecutor Eric H. Sussman.

Sussman then asked Thompson whether he had ever approved the payments.

“Never,” Thompson said, ending his testimony and leaving the courthouse flanked by a pair of his own attorneys. He did not immediately respond to a message left on his cell phone.

Black, 62, is charged with swindling Hollinger, a major newspaper holding company, out of $84 million largely by selling off small papers and pocketing payments from the purchasers.

The payments were in exchange for promises not to move back into the areas where the papers circulated to compete with the new owners. Such “noncompete” payments are not unusual in the publishing industry but federal prosecutors say the money should have gone to Hollinger International shareholders and not Black and his fellow executives.

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