Convicted ex-media baron Conrad Black freed on bond

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered imprisoned former media baron Conrad Black released on $2 million bond, while she decides whether to throw out his 2007 conviction for defrauding shareholders.

Adhering to rulings by higher courts, trial Judge Amy St. Eve of the U.S. District Court set Black, 65, free but restricted him to the continental United States.

The Canadian-born Black, a British peer who once led the world's third-largest newspaper publisher, with titles including London's Daily Telegraph, Canada's National Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, entered a Florida prison in March 2008.

A jury convicted him of three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice in a scheme that swindled now defunct media holding company Hollinger International Inc out of $6.1 million. He was acquitted of nine other counts, including racketeering.

Judge St. Eve sentenced Black to 6 1/2 years in prison, of which he has served slightly more than two years.

On Wednesday, St. Eve ordered him to appear in Chicago before his formal release.

Prosecutors said Black and three fellow Hollinger executives also convicted in the case arranged to pay themselves tax-free bonuses disguised as non-compete fees as they sold off pieces of the Hollinger empire.

Last month, Black won a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court limited the reach of the federal fraud law that prosecutors used frequently in corruption cases against government officials and executives like Black and former Enron Corp Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling.

The high court stopped short of overturning convictions and sent the cases back to lower courts.

The federal law is applied to fraud cases in which a person is accused of depriving others of the intangible right to "honest services." It has been criticized as being too vague and overused.

Black still faces numerous civil suits related to Hollinger, and U.S. tax authorities have demanded $71 million from him for unpaid taxes.

[Source: By Nick Carey, Reuters, Chicago, 21Jul10]

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