It is the trial of the century (so far) and the ultimate theater of the absurd. The setting is Chicago, the windy city made famous by bootleggers and gangsters. In the dock is Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour PC, OC, KCSG. He is a prominent and controversial British/Canadian biographer, financier and former newspaper magnate. He is married to Barbara Amiel, a well-known columnist. He once owned The Age and the SMH.

All the world’s a stage for disaster, trial, pantomime or crash victims writes Jeff Randall in The Telegraph:

Black, along with three business partners, is accused of running a “corporate kleptocracy”, looting Hollinger International (erstwhile owner of the Daily Telegraph), which he once headed, of some $80m.

He denies all charges and is promising a spirited defence. Such is the expected cast list, Broadway would be a more appropriate venue. In no particular order – and without any suggestion of wrongdoing – the courtroom players will probably include Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel, busily redefining the role of femme fatale, and previous Hollinger non-executive directors, Henry Kissinger, Jim Thompson, a former governor of Illinois, and Richard Perle, a former US assistant secretary of defense.

Leading the prosecution team, hoping to pot Black, will be Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney in Chicago. He is regarded as a cross between Perry Mason and an Irish terrier, that is, the last man you’d want to meet during a trial by jury. All that’s missing is a libretto by Gilbert, with music by Sullivan.

James Langton, Sunday Telegraph, believes a circus has come to town for Conrad Black’s trial:

It has all the ingredients of a hit television courtroom drama. A powerful man fallen from grace, his free-spending wife and a cast of supporting characters well known from some of the biggest political scandals in recent years. Among the oversized characters arriving in Chicago this week for the trial of the media tycoon Conrad Black are a judge who once battled the Clintons and a prosecutor, fresh from destroying one of the most powerful men in the White House.

They will be joined by more than 300 journalists from around the world with front-row courtroom seats reserved for Dominick Dunne, the investigative journalist who covered the O J Simpson trial for Vanity Fair, and the writer Tom Bower, who is facing an $11 million (£5.7 million) libel action from Black for his “sadistic” biography of the Canadian-born tycoon. Lesser writers will be relegated to an overflow room, where proceedings will be shown over a video link.

Greedy, flamboyant crook or innocent victim of a monstrous conspiracy asks Tom Bower, his biographer, in The Times:

Judgment Day is near. Five years after Conrad Black was publicly accused in New York of being a thief, a jury will be empanelled this week in Chicago to decide whether the former owner of The Daily Telegraph is guilty of fraud, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice after looting $83m from Hollinger International, his former company. The stakes are nuclear. If convicted, Black faces nearly 100 years’ imprisonment, financial ruin and humiliation. If acquitted, his vengeance will be merciless.

Writs have already been issued against dozens of former Hollinger directors including Henry Kissinger, and also against lawyers, accountants and other professionals. All are blamed for accusing Black of fraud and for liquidating the remnants of the world’s third largest newspaper empire. This weekend, attended by Berner his faithful butler, Lord Black of Crossharbour is enjoying his last hours of comparative freedom at his vast house set on seven acres in Toronto. Greed for other sumptuous homes in London, New York and Palm Beach, two private jets, an army of personal butlers, cooks and cleaners, and glittering parties has fuelled his downfall.

Unaccused but also blamed for his plight is Barbara Amiel, his glamorous and intelligent wife. The opinionated journalist encouraged the excesses that her husband could not afford. Five years ago, surrounded in her London dressing rooms by a cascade of couture dresses, shoes, handbags and diamond jewels costing millions of pounds, the self-confessed glamour puss infamously confided: “I have an extravagance that knows no bounds.”

Crikey will be in the overflow room, watching the proceedings on video link.

Enjoy.

Peter Fray

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