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Top court to hear appeal by Conrad Black's former associates

Conrad Black leaves after his bail hearing at Federal Court Friday July 23, 2010, in Chicago.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that it will hear an appeal by Conrad Black's former business associates who argue Lord Black's six libel suits against them should not proceed in Ontario.

Richard Breeden and other defendants in the case have been granted their application to appeal a Court of Appeal for Ontario ruling that found Lord Black's case against them can proceed in the province.

A lower court dismissed the defendants' motion for a stay in 2009, and they appealed the decision, but a court rejected that appeal in August. Canada's high court will hear the case on March 22.

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The former media mogul is attempting to sue members of a special committee of Hollinger International - where Lord Black was once the chairman and CEO - over statements about his use of shareholder money.

The statements were published on the Sun-Times Media Inc. website and republished by many media outlets in Ontario.

Court documents cite in particular a 2004 report from the committee, authored by Mr. Breeden, that said the company was a "corporate kleptocracy" while Lord Black was the chief executive officer.

It also said Lord Black "freely used the company's coffers, financed by its public shareholders, to finance (his) own lifestyle," and that Lord Black had "looted" the newspaper publisher of at least $300-million.

The defendants argued that the case had no real connection to Ontario, because Lord Black was no longer a Canadian and the statements were made in the United States by directors, officers and advisers of an American corporation in accordance with U.S. security laws.

Lord Black's legal team countered that the libel actions should proceed in Ontario, where he established his reputation and that he should be vindicated from statements about his use of Hollinger shareholder money.

The Ontario appeals court agreed with the lower court judge's finding that no single jurisdiction was home to the majority of the parties involved in the lawsuits. Nine of the 11 parties were in the United States, but were spread across six different jurisdictions.

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The higher court also addressed the defendants' argument that Lord Black would have an advantage by pursuing his case in Ontario rather than the U.S., where libel laws are less favourable to plaintiffs.

Justice Andromache Karakatsanis wrote that it was "perfectly legitimate" for Lord Black to take advantage of Ontario laws, since a "substantial connection" with Ontario had been established.

The court awarded Lord Black $35,000 in legal costs.

Lord Black is currently free on bail after serving more than two years in a Florida prison on fraud and obstruction of justice convictions.

He was released in July after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the law used to convict him of fraud.

In October, two of Lord Black's fraud convictions were overturned by a U.S. appeals court that upheld a third, plus the obstruction of justice conviction.

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Lord Black has since filed a motion to have a U.S. federal appeal court in Chicago review a recent decision by three appeal judges.

He is to be resentenced on the upheld convictions, but it's not clear when that will occur.

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