Former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson endured three merciless hours on the witness stand Wednesday as defense attorneys ripped into his claims about how he handled his job as a director of media mogul Conrad Black's Hollinger newspaper conglomerate.
Thompson admitted at Black's trial Tuesday that as head of the audit committee of the Hollinger International board he had not read key documents carefully and thus failed to notice $15.6 million (euro11.5 million) in payments that are now one focus of the federal fraud indictment.
When Thompson returned to the stand on Wednesday, Black defense attorney Edward Greenspan hammered repeatedly at Thompson's claim that he failed to notice 11 separate references to the payments to Black and other Hollinger executives contained in financial and regulatory documents.
Thompson said more than two dozen times he had skimmed the documents and in referring to one of them he added: "I should have read it word for word."
In one of the trial's most dramatic moments to date, Greenspan capped his cross examination by suggesting that the four-term Republican governor and two other members of the Hollinger International board were lying when they claimed they knew nothing about the payments.
"I'm going to suggest to you, Governor Thompson, you read all of these things and approved all of these things and when there was some criticism of them you all conveniently forgot," Greenspan said.
"That is false," Thompson said, raising his voice while his wife, Jayne, who owns a Chicago public relations firm, looked on solemn-faced.
Black, 62, is charged with swindling the Hollinger International newspaper holding company that he once ran out of $84 million (euro62 million), largely through selling off newspapers and pocketing payments from the buyers.
The payments were in exchange for promises not to move back into the circulation areas of the newspapers and competing with the new owners.
Prosecutors say the money should have gone to Hollinger shareholders and not into the pockets of Black and two of his three co-defendants.
Wednesday's clash came over $15.6 million paid to Black and other Hollinger executives in 2000 and 2001 for the so-called non-compete agreements included in the sale of a number of community newspapers.
The payments which included $7,197,500 for Black alone were disclosed in 11 financial and regulatory documents, five of them public record that anyone could see, starting in early 2002. But Thompson insisted that he missed all mention of the payments in the documents.
"I skimmed them," he confessed repeatedly.
Whether Thompson knew about the payments is important because Hollinger documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and elsewhere say the company's independent directors approved them.
Approval by independent directors _ ones who do not have a stake in the company _ is required by the New York Stock Exchange in the case of so-called related-party transactions _ in which executives of the company are getting a benefit out of a deal they are making for the company.