Boxing's King could face a retrial Don King could face fraud rematch

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The Independent Online

New York

Don King seemed at first to sag. Finally he rose from the defence table at which he had sat every working day for five weeks and joined his lawyer, Peter Fleming, in a long hug. From the courtroom he went first to the lavatory and then outside to a Lincoln limousine that carried him away to church.

You might have expected something different from Mr King, who is as famous for his bravura as for his electric-shock hairstyle. Minutes before, the jurors who had been weighing the US government's nine charges of insurance fraud against him were dismissed because they were hopelessly deadlocked.

A mistrial had been declared and Mr King was a free man. Free to confer with God and to return to being the world's most powerful - and most feared - promoter of professional boxing. Doubtless first on his agenda was the welfare of his choicest asset, "Iron Mike" Tyson, and the bout planned for March in Nevada between him and Frank Bruno.

But there were reasons for Mr King's uncharacteristic moderation. For one, he was surely exhausted by the last hours of the trial, which offered drama worthy of the Ali-Frazier "Thrilla in Manila" two decades ago. For another, he is not out of trouble yet. It is almost certain the government will seek a retrial in the new year.

He also faces a civil lawsuit from the Lloyd's of London syndicate whose insurance pay-out to him in 1992 was at the heart of the trial. Indicating that a suit would be launched, the lawyer for the syndicate, Donald Cayea, said yesterday that it "believes it has enough evidence to meet the civil standard" successfully to recoup all its money, and perhaps more.

The allegation was that Mr King padded a claim that arose from the planned June 1991 fight between Julio Cesar Chavez, the current World Boxing Council super-lightweight champion, and Harold Brazier that was cancelled after Chavez injured his nose during training. According to the government, Mr King doctored his original contract with Chavez to include a fictitious loss of $350,000 in "non-refundable training expenses" for Chavez.

During his own testimony a week ago, Mr King all but admitted Lloyd's had been duped, agreeing that the figure of $350,000 had been "made up". But Mr Fleming contended that Mr King had nothing to do with filing the claim because he was too busy with other matters, including preparing to fight pending charges of rape against Tyson, which were to send the former heavyweight champion to jail for three years.

Anyone familiar with Mr King's reputation for sharp practice could easily find the charges against him believable. It was one of his former fighters, Tim Witherspoon, who once remarked that "Don's problem is that he would rather put a dishonest quarter into his pocket than an honest dollar". As they left court yesterday, however, several jurors said the government had failed to prove that even if a crime had been committed that it was Mr King who was the guilty party.

Some may also have shared the belief of the defence, though it was never expressed formally in court, that Don King had been brought to trial only because he was Don King. In 1985 the government tried and failed to convict him of tax evasion. Its appetite for the hide of Mr King, who in 1967 was jailed for manslaughter for beating a man to death - he served four years - has not been quenched since. The closing hours of the trial were a bitter experience for the prosecutors. After receiving a note from jurors signalling their difficulties, Judge Lawrence McKenna surprised everyone by declining to take the normal route of admonishing them to try harder, deciding instead to dismiss them. In a last-ditch gambit, the prosecution went to an appeals court, asking that Judge McKenna be forced to keep deliberations going. The manoeuvre spawned headlines about "King Trial Chaos". But yesterday morning the prosecution gave up the fight and conceded defeat. Until the next round, that is.