Hollinger's titles up for grabs as Black resigns

Rival news groups are vying for control of Hollinger International's newspapers after the resignation of its boss, Conrad Black, amid a financial scandal.

The scandal will almost certainly precipitate the dismemberment of Hollinger, which owns titles such as The Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and The Spectator.

Richard Desmond, the owner of the Daily Express, has emerged as the favourite to capture The Telegraph, but he could face competition from the publisher of the Daily Mail, Rupert Murdoch's News International and US-based venture capitalists.

Lord Black stepped down from day-to-day-control of his US-listed publishing operation on Monday after revelations that senior executives had received more than £17.8 million in payments that were kept secret from shareholders.

It also opens up the prospect of an investigation by the US Securities & Exchange Commission and class-action lawsuits by angry shareholders.

Whatever happens, the consensus is that the Canadian billionaire's career as an all-powerful press baron is all but over. This is despite his insistence only last summer that The Telegraph, the UK's best-selling broadsheet, would never leave the fold regardless of Hollinger's finances.

Desmond's Northern & Shell group is said to be interested in buying The Telegraph. Desmond and Black share ownership of The Telegraph's printing plant in London's Docklands. If The Telegraph changes hands, Northern & Shell has the option to buy the remaining 50 per cent of the plant, potentially leaving a new owner of The Telegraph without printing facilities.

Daily Mail & General Trust, which owns the Daily Mail and London's Evening Standard, has approached Hollinger's investment bankers, Lazards, about a possible bid, although debts of £1 billion could rule it out.

News International, the parent of The Times and The Sunday Times, may also bid but its dominant position in the market could invite scrutiny from the Competition Commission.

Hollinger has denied any financial impropriety, claiming that the payments were only improper because the right paperwork wasn't completed.

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