Black's lawyers move to unfreeze assets

With a monthly income of a mere £10,500, the party's truly over for the former media tycoon, facing up to 40 years' jail for fraud
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The Independent US

Lawyers for Conrad Black said yesterday that they were in discussions with his former company, Hollinger International, to lift the worldwide freeze of the fallen media tycoon's assets. The freeze, news of which emerged only days ago, is the latest in a series of legal actions against Lord Black, who has been indicted for fraud by the US Department of Justice in Chicago and faces a possible 40-year jail term.

In a separate action, he is charged, along with former colleagues, of looting £44m from Hollinger.

Lord Black is now leading, for him, a low-key life in Toronto. But no life led by Lord and Lady Black could possibly be as low key as the one that Hollinger, now known as Sun-Times Media, would like them to lead. The former press baron, whose company owned a world-wide media empire that included The Daily Telegraph, will in future have only a reported £10,500 to spend every month, breadline to the Blacks, consideringtheir present circumstances, never mind the gold-plated, multi-shoed lifestyle the couple enjoyed in their pomp.

Lord Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel, are now living a little more quietly, according to Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun. Lord Black received the news of the asset freeze as he prepared for his 62nd birthday with family and friends.

Mr Worthington said yesterday: "He no longer holds those extraordinary gala dinners. They're not holding those wild parties anymore. They're discreet - they don't want to put themselves in a position where someone could snub them. He knows who his friends are. They fall into two groups. There are those who have deserted him and can't wait to attack him in public. Then there are his friends who don't blab to the press and still go out to dinner with him. Most rich men never find out who their true friends are. He has."

But their new middle-class lifestyle has limits. For instance, Lord Black, according to a local source, still attends a monthly supper club at expensive Toronto restaurants with the Bilderberg group, a collection of leading money men and foreign policy strategists whose members include the current Prime Minister of Canada.

And Lord and Lady Black have not entirely given up the party habit, most recently attending a high-profile event honouring a Toronto billionaire. Lord Black has hosted a birthday party for an editor of one of his old newspaper titles and next month will address the Empire Speaking Club, with a speech entitled "The Changing Face of Canada."

Lord Black and his journalist wife, who once commuted between properties around the world in a Gulfstream IV jet, are now said to be "inseparable" as they cling to their one surviving house. Their Toronto mansion, in the well-heeled Bridle Path area of the city that is known locally as "millionaire's row", has an 18th-century cardinal's throne, a domed roof modelled on St Peter's Basilica and is set in 12 acres of land. Another property, a £21m Palm Beach house, is currently in hock to back his £11m bail bond with the US authorities. One set of family friends, the Bamfords, who made a fortune from their JCB digger empire, recently paid rent to the Blacks while they used the ocean-side house for a holiday.

The Blacks need all the holiday lets they can get. Their allowance of £10,500 will not cover the £65,000-a-month mortgage and property tax payments that a US judge reported Lord Black was paying. It was also said that he was paying £4,800 a month to his gardener, who, if the freeze stays, might join the butler, under-butlers, chefs, chauffers, housemen and footmen from the Blacks' former homes in seeking new work.

When Lord Black left Canada to accept a British peerage five years ago, he described Canada as "an oppressive little world," adding that "African-Americans ... today have a higher standard of living than Canada has". After his unexpected return, Lord Black's lawyer claimed his client had undergone a change of heart, saying that he now "loves Canada".

And Lord Black may have returned to his birthplace a changed man, according to Peter Worthington.

He said: "Although the concepts of humility and Conrad Black are pretty alien, he's a lot more human than he was before. The appearance of arrogance has diminished. He's much more approachable - he's very jolly and friendly now."

However, it remains to be seen whether the freezing of their assets will further add to the new-found humility of Conrad and Barbara Black.

THE EXPENSES

Toronto Mansion

The Blacks' mansion has a domed roof modelled on St Peter's Basilica. "Post-freeze" allowance of £10,500 is far short of the monthly £65,000 mortgage payments.

Highly Paid Gardener

The Blacks pay £4,800 a month to a gardener - nearly half of their new monthly allowance.

Charity Donations

Blacks said to have given £240,000 to Toronto's new opera house in June.

Posh Restaurants

Susur, one of Toronto's best, has a fish dinner at £114 for two without wine. Is it time for a supermarket run?

Business Class

No private jet now; flying from Toronto to Victoria is £3,407 business class and £1,055 economy.

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