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Ex-media mogul faces tough odds

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Fallen newspaper magnate Conrad Black faces long but not insurmountable odds in trying to beat federal fraud charges, legal experts say, as he enters the courtroom Wednesday to formally begin his defense.

Until his ouster as head of the Hollinger International media empire, Black controlled a stable of papers from Chicago to London to Jerusalem. The former Canadian citizen, now a member of the British House of Lords, has pledged to prosecutors to appear at his rescheduled arraignment in U.S. District Court after skipping one Nov. 22 to line up a criminal defense team.

Black is certain to declare his "innocence without qualification," as he already has conveyed through an attorney, to all eight charges accusing him of involvement in fraudulent schemes which the government claims netted company insiders some $84 million. But beyond that, his likely defense strategy is a matter of speculation.

Outside attorneys predict a trial won't start for six to 18 months, depending on what Black's defense team does. They note that high-profile corporate executives accused of white-collar crimes usually lose -- and in this instance Black will have to overcome testimony against him from former top lieutenant David Radler, who has pleaded guilty. But especially with a jury trial, nothing is a given.

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"There's no question that despite a small number of losses in high-profile cases, the government has won the majority of these trials," said Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer.

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