Monday, 17 November 2003

Conrad Black steps down

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Beleaguered Hollinger International chief Conrad Black, owner of the Daily Telegraph, dramatically agreed to resign today after admitting he and other executives had received unauthorised secret payments totalling £19m.

And in a move that has sent rivals scurrying to size up a Telegraph takeover, Lord Black also indicated he may be willing to sell the newspaper group.

He has appointed investment bank Lazards to look into the future options for the group, including the sale of some or all of its titles including the flagship Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Spectator, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.

The Daily Mail and General Trust, Express owner Richard Desmond, the Barclay brothers and the Washington Post Group are all being touted as possible suitors for the Telegraph titles or the group as a whole.

The dramatic turn of events comes after months of bluster from Lord Black, who contemptuously dismissed the "corporate governance zealots" and critics who demanded answers over the £120m in management payments that were uncovered earlier this year.

Lord Black said the £19m, which was uncovered after an independent investigation into the company, would be paid back with interest.

Hollinger International, the newspaper group controlled by the Tory peer, admitted on Friday night that payments received from rival publishers had not been authorised by the board or disclosed to shareholders.

It wasn't until this morning, however, that Lord Black admitted the level of secret payments with a surprise statement released just after 2am in New York (7am GMT).

Lord Black's resignation will be accompanied by wholesale management changes with his closest advisers among the earliest casualties.

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