The charitable side of... Conrad Black

Stephen Cook

The former Telegraph owner has been particularly generous with money that isn't strictly his...

Lord Black of Crossharbour, former proprietor of The Daily Telegraph, is perhaps best known for running what Richard Breeden of the US Securities and Exchange Commission memorably called "a corporate kleptocracy".

Black, his wife and their associates were accused of siphoning off the assets of his company, Hollinger International, for everything from expensive handbags to birthday parties and the refurbishment of Rolls Royces. Black is due in court in Chicago this week to answer eight charges of fraud, which he strenuously denies.

But can he be all bad when he has also given so much to charity? Nearly half a million dollars, or £290,000, for example, to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to build the Black Family Foundation Wing. David Radler, deputy chairman of Hollinger, gave $168,000 (£98,000) to Queen's University in Toronto for the Radler Business Wing, and made donations to a hospital and university in Israel. Between 1996 and 2003, they gave $6.5m (£3.8m) between them to charities in four countries, including the UK.

The trouble was, as a special committee of Hollinger's directors reported last year, that it was not their money - it belonged to the company. "The Blacks and Radlers directed thousands of Hollinger's dollars in contributions to pet charities of their friends and other Hollinger directors, even in years when Hollinger returned a net loss," said the report. "In return, they often served on charity boards or attended lavish events, particularly in New York." None of the donations was publicly disclosed or presented to the company's board or audit committee.

So, as Dr McCoy might say, it's charitable donation, Jim, but not as we know it.

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