By: E&P Staff
As early as Friday, the key holding company Conrad Black once used to control a worldwide newspaper empire could formally plead guilty to criminal charges it participated along with Black and others in the alleged looting of Chicago Sun-Times publishing company Hollinger International.
Toronto-based Ravelston Corp. Ltd. confirmed over the weekend that it had reached an agreement with U.S. prosecutors to plead guilty to one count of fraud, and pay a $7 million fine. The entity also agreed to cooperate in the federal prosecution of Black, who along with former Hollinger Executive Vice President Peter Y. Atkinson, former CFO John “Jack” Boultbee and former General Counsel Mark Kipnis, has pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud charges for the alleged theft of more than $80 million from the company through improper fees, contracts and payments. Black is also charged with filing false income tax returns that underreported his income in 1999 and 2000 by $29 million.
Ravelston had faced charges of racketeering, mail fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.
Though Black still owns a two-thirds stake in Ravelston, the holding company has been under the court-ordered receivership of RSM Richter Inc. since 2005.
Ravelston is the second defendant in the Hollinger scandal to agree to a plea bargain. Black?s long-time lieutenant, the former Chicago Sun-Times Publisher F. David Radler, agreed to plead guilty to a single count of mail fraud in exchange for a prison term of 29 months in jail, which likely will be served in his native Canada, plus a $250,000 fine and a promise to testify against Black and the others.
In a court filing, Ravelston said federal prosecutors have a good case against them, especially given Radler?s agreement to testify.
Ravelston, which in a statement said Black disagreed with the decision to plead guilty, also noted that Hollinger Inc. — another Black-controlled holding company — had earlier agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
A status hearing in its case is scheduled Friday morning before U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve in Chicago.
Jury selection in Black?s trial is set to begin March 7.
Hollinger International last summer changed its name to Sun-Times Media Group to reflect its present holdings of the Chicago daily plus about 100 other Chicago-area dailies and community papers.