Conrad Black in Florida: ‘I still expect justice to prevail’
Many of Lord Black's tormenters should be afraid.
The focus of the libel suit is the now discredited August 2004 Report of Investigation by the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of Hollinger International. In that report, spearheaded by Mr. Breeden, a former head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hired as a special advisor to Hollinger, the company is described as a "corporate kleptocracy." Those words alone, while only used once in the report, are sensational and powerful enough to carry a libel suit in most circumstances if found to be unsubstantiated.
Equally damaging language dominates the summary of the report, which claimed that $500-million had been swept out of Hollinger. Easily found through Google today, the first 20 pages make for stunning over-the-top reading. "Hollinger wasn't a company where isolated improper and abusive acts took place. Rather, Hollinger was a company where abusive practices were inextricably linked to every major development or action." It claimed that "ethical corruption was a defining characteristic of the leadership team."
Along with Mr. Breeden, the libel suit names a group of Hollinger executives who had taken over the company after Lord Black had left. They include Gordon Paris, James R. Thompson, Graham L. Savage, Raymond Seitz and
Henry Kissinger. To fight the libel case, the defendants want the case moved out of Ontario, where libel laws work in favour of the plaintiff by forcing the defendants to prove the veracity of their statements. Mr. Breeden and the plaintiffs want the case moved to New York or Illinois, where the opposite burden prevails and the law favours defendants.
A lower court last year threw out the Breeden attempt to shift venues, saying the case should be heard in Ontario. The judge also awarded Lord Black $90,000 in expenses, perhaps an omen of things to come. The Ontario Court of Appeal heard an appeal of the jurisdiction issue this past May, and is expected to issue a decision sometime over the next three months