Conrad Black agreed yesterday to sell his controlling stake in the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times, turning his media holdings over to multimillionaire British twins and giving the city's No. 2 paper its fifth owner in two decades.
Stunning his critics, Black surrendered the business that gave him what he cherished: an extravagant lifestyle with a glittery array of influential political and social figures.
Already forced to step down as chief executive officer of Hollinger International Inc. in November, Black's announcement came as investigators and shareholders had curtailed his power and largely blamed him for a scandal in which he and top deputies allegedly pocketed $90.2 million in unauthorized payments.
Instead of making an initial $850,000 restitution payment as scheduled yesterday, Black announced that he was selling his shares to David and Frederick Barclay, two reclusive entrepreneurs who live on a tax-haven island in the English Channel.
Sources close to the brothers say they were most interested in the Daily Telegraph, London's leading broadsheet that many consider to be the jewel of Black's small empire. Whether they intend to hold onto the Sun-Times is unclear.
For now, the brothers said they would not stand in the way of a New York investment bank's search for possible buyers of some or all of Hollinger International's papers.
The Sun-Times and Hollinger's other Chicago area publications would be the first U.S. newspapers for the Barclays, whose holdings - including newspapers and London's Ritz Hotel - bring in about $7 billion in sales annually.
The Barclays' Press Holdings International Ltd. agreed to pay $326.5 million for all of Black's shares in Hollinger's parent company, Toronto-based Hollinger Inc.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.