THE CLAIRE FOSS JOURNAL
Carlyle Group May Bail Out Conrad Black
'Ex-Presidents Club' Ready To Throw Lifeline To Embattled Telegraph Owner
By Jamie Doward and Jessica Hodgson
The Observer - UK
**Editors Note: Update Nov 24-2003
The powers that be, apparently, are re-thinking this bail out, the reason for this change of heart should be quite obvious.
A powerful banking group with close links to the Pentagon, which has also invested money on behalf of the Bin Laden family, is in talks to bail out beleaguered Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black.
The revelation suggests that Britain's bestselling broadsheet - coveted by rival newspaper barons because of its political influence - may not go under the hammer after all, as Lord Black tries to quell a shareholder rebellion in the face of allegations that he and several acolytes pocketed millions of dollars that was not theirs to take.
Daily Express owner Richard Desmond and the Daily Mail & General Trust, which owns the Daily Mail, are keen to buy the Telegraph titles, despite the fact that questions over the concentration of media ownership would be raised.
The Carlyle Group, known as the Ex-Presidents Club because of the number of former world leaders it employs, is considering taking a stake in Hollinger International, which owns the Telegraph titles, the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, according to those close to the firm.
'It's unusual for a group of assets to come to the market like this. We would look to sell off the Jerusalem Post and Hollinger's stake in the New York Sun. Conrad [Black] would have to step out of management, but that does not mean he would have to let go of his equity stake,' said a Carlyle source. 'Ideally, we would look to take a 25-40 per cent stake. That would allow us to put people on the board,' the source added.
The move would represent a coup for Black, who is desperate not to sell the Telegraph titles, which have given him considerable influence within British politics and earned him a close friendship with Margaret Thatcher.
Carlyle - which employs former Prime Minister John Major as a director, boasts George Bush Snr and his Secretary of State, James Baker, as advisers, and is headed by Frank Carlucci, Ronald Reagan's Defence Secretary - has invested in media firms previously. The group once owned 40 per cent of France's Le Figaro, and more recently acquired part of French conglomerate Vivendi's publishing assets.
It also part-owns Qinetiq, the Government's privatised defence research laboratories, and CSX Lines, a logistics firm that specialises in shipping heavy equipment for the military. In the past, Carlyle has owned Vinnell, a company that trained the Saudi army.
If Carlyle - which, despite being only 15 years old, manages more than $14 billion in funds on behalf of investors such as George Soros and the Bin Laden family (who are estranged from their son Osama) - does take a stake in Hollinger, questions are bound to be asked over the links between the two firms, both of which have powerful links to the military.
Leading foreign policy hawks Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger sit on the Hollinger board. Black himself is a member of the secretive Bilderberg group, an organisation comprising the world's leading businessmen and politicians, which some have accused of being an alternative world government.
In a separate move, it has emerged that Wall Street fund manager Tweedy Browne will take legal action against the Hollinger board if it is not satisfied with the company's actions.
Shareholders are angry that tens of millions of dollars that Black and fellow directors took in 'non-compete' fees did not go to Hollinger.
'I want to know how this board came to pay out a red cent to these people,' said Tweedy Browne analyst Laura Jeresky.
Hollinger is the subject of an inquiry by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Investigators are keen to understand the company's relationship with Ravelston Corporation, which is privately owned by Black and has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars which shareholders say should be returned to them.
Toronto-based Ravelston pays millions of dollars in management fees to Ravelston Management Inc (RMI). There are suggestions that RMI may be based in a tax haven. Hollinger spokesman Paul Healy declined to comment.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003