Conrad Black quits Hollinger early on advice of lawyers

LONDON - Conrad Black has left his job as chief executive officer of Hollinger International two days earlier than expected on the advice of his lawyers, as US financial regulators served subpoenas on the newspaper company.

Hollinger, which is still describing Lord Black's departure as a retirement, said in a statement that he was stepping down with immediate effect last night on the advice of counsel and that he will be unable to sign off a filing for the US Securites & Exchange Commission for the last quarter.

Lord Black was due to leave on Friday November 21. He is facing the consequences of making payments to himself and to other senior executives at Hollinger totalling $32.5m (£19.1m), which were not properly authorised by the company.

The SEC has served subpoenas on Hollinger for certain documents relating to the payments. There are also reports that the SEC will quiz the company's non-executive directors, which include former US secretary of state and Nobel Prize Peace winner Henry Kissinger, Lord Black's wife Barbara Amiel and another former US secretary of state Richard Perle, over how closely they monitored goings on at the company.

Hollinger is now being run by Gordon Paris, who has taken over the role of CEO. Hollinger said that the new management team is looking at ways to reduce costs, with the first step being to ground the two executive jets used by the company, with the possibility of selling one of the planes and phasing out the lease on the second.

Hollinger now looks set to be broken up, with feverish speculation over who will buy its prized newspaper assets, which include the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator magazine in the UK, the Chicago Sun-Times in the US and the Jerusalem Post.

The Financial Times reports that the Daily Mail & General Trust is looking at selling non-core assets to fund a takeover bid. Richard Desmond, who owns Express Newspaper, is also in the running -- although both bids would be subject to scrutiny by the Competition Commission.

The investment bank Lazard has been retained to look at the options for selling or restructuring Hollinger.

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