Conrad Black, aka Lord Black of Crossharbour, former owner of The Daily Telegraph and the Fairfax newspaper company, faces the real possibility of a prison term after criminal fraud charges were levelled against him overnight by government prosecutors in the US, reports Katherine Griffiths in The Independent.

US prosecutors issued a warrant for Black’s arrest last night, but he has the opportunity to turn himself in. He is accused of looting millions of dollars from Hollinger, the international publishing empire he built up to include the Jerusalem Post, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Telegraph group’s daily and Sunday titles.

If found guilty on eight counts of fraud against him, 61-year-old Lord Black could spend much of the rest of his life in prison in the US. But proving the case could prove a challenge, reports Forbes. US Attorney Patrick J Fitzgerald’s 60-page indictment outlines an elaborate scheme involving two Park Avenue apartments, a corporate jet and how the defendants diverted a combined $US80 million from Hollinger International.

According to today’s London Times, Black’s downfall dates back to an ill-judged 2002 Vanity Fair interview by his wife, columnist Barbar Amiel, in which she showed off her shoe collection and boasted, “I have an extravagance that knows no bounds.” The comment helped antagonise Christopher Browne, a key Wall Street investor in Lord Black’s empire, prompting him to ask more and more questions about the operation of Hollinger International. He eventually demanded a formal enquiry, and in November 2003, the investigation, under the guidance of a group of non-executive directors, forced Black to resign as chief executive after finding that he received $7.2 million of “unauthorised” payments from Hollinger.

But Black’s real downfall came in August 2005, when David Radler, his business partner of more than 30 years, agreed to plead guilty to participating, with others, “in a scheme to defraud [Hollinger] International and International’s public shareholders.” It was only a matter of time before the prosecutors indicted Lord Black.

Meanwhile, The Guardian is reporting that Black could face a prison term of 40 years if he’s convicted of the fraud – which prosecutor Fitzgerald described as “the grossest abuse.” And at the unsealing of the indictment (you can read the full text here and the US Department of Justice statement here) in Chicago yesterday, US authorities were threatening to seek his extradition if he did not turn himself in.