Yours for $37m... but does Black really want to sell his mansion?

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The Independent US

The listing by the estate agent announces that this mansion is a cut above the average. "Gorgeous, two-storey Colonial-style estate," it reads. "Situated on approximately 2.62 acres of lush, landscaped lawn with a rose garden and herb garden." Nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a double stairwell in onyx, a pool, of course, with separate cabana and guest house, a tower with stunning ocean views ...

The listing by the estate agent announces that this mansion is a cut above the average. "Gorgeous, two-storey Colonial-style estate," it reads. "Situated on approximately 2.62 acres of lush, landscaped lawn with a rose garden and herb garden." Nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a double stairwell in onyx, a pool, of course, with separate cabana and guest house, a tower with stunning ocean views ...

This 21,500 sq ft property is not only situated on one of the most exclusive slivers of land in the United States - the coastal enclave of Palm Beach, Florida - it enjoys two separate waterfronts, one looking out over the Atlantic and the other facing inland over the long and narrow expanse of Lake Worth. To avoid the irritation of crossing Ocean Boulevard to reach the beach on the Atlantic side, the property boasts an underground tunnel covered in decorated ceramic tiles that leads to a stretch of private beach.

Two things are not mentioned in the estate agent Linda A Gray's listing. The first is the asking price - provided upon request, it says, which is what it always says with houses of this calibre. Basically, if you need to ask, you can't afford it anyway. And the second thing is the name of the seller.

To anyone familiar with the comings and goings of Palm Beach's ultra-rich, however, the identity of the owners of 1930 South Ocean Boulevard is no secret. They are Conrad Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel, and the only surprise around town is that they didn't sell up and move out a long time ago.

Lord Black is the disgraced former chairman of Hollinger International who has been fighting a two-year battle against his creditors who allege he looted as much as $400m (£220m) from the company during his tenure. He and his wife put the Palm Beach property on the market more than a year ago, at an asking price of $36m, but yanked it off again when they did not get any takers. Now the asking price has been pushed up to $37m, which makes one think it is not being primed for a quick sale.

True, the Blacks need the cash to meet their multiple debts. True, $37m would represent a nice profit on the $9.9m they paid for the place in 1997. But there are several reasons to wonder whether they really want to sell, or if they are merely going through the motions to satisfy the ever-circling financial and law enforcement authorities.

First off, the Palm Beach County appraiser's office values the 17,000 sq ft house at just $7.4m and the land at $12.5m and there's no way to make those two figures add up to $37m. Secondly, there is a hefty lien on the property, which is hardly going to be an enticement to any prospective buyer.

The lien was the doing of the Canada tax authorities, who stated in court documents in March that the Blacks owe more than $10m to the US Internal Revenue Service. In response, Lord Black signed a $10.5m mortgage as security to "Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada". Last month, he also took out a $10m loan, using the house as collateral, which falls due in a year.

The Palm Beach property is clearly an asset to which the Blacks are sentimentally attached. A photograph published in Vanity Fair last year showed them looking blissfully happy before some statuary on their lawn. "It isn't everyone's cup of tea," Lord Black once acknowledged. "Some people are offended by the extreme opulence, but I find it sort of entertaining."

Even by the standards of Palm Beach, the Black house is quite something, featuring balconies, loggias, a wood-panelled library, a spiral staircase leading up to the tower room, and so on. The interior features fine paintings, including a Warhol of Marilyn Monroe, and luxurious furniture. On the second floor hangs a gold-fringed American flag that Franklin D Roosevelt once had hanging behind his desk at the White House.

In the old days - which is to say not all that long ago - the Blacks would habitually fly to Palm Beach in their Gulfstream jet to enjoy the balmy winter weather and hobnob with the local smart set.Whether they will be missed is hard to say. In the rarefied circles of Palm Beach, one simply doesn't discuss such things in public.

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