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Black defends his rant against U.S. system

'The absence of remorse under any circumstances is not helpful before sentencing,' former prosecutor says

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Conrad Black is asserting his innocence and railing against the U.S. government with a week to go before his sentencing, something that legal experts suggest could be detrimental to him.

The 63-year-old has been convicted on charges of fraud and obstruction of justice and his prosecutors are pushing for a jail sentence of about two decades.

But Lord Black has no regrets about speaking out against them, and the U.S. legal system, in an interview with the British press last week.

"I said nothing that should be offensive to the trial judge," Lord Black told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail yesterday. "The media preoccupation with my lack of remorse seems to assume that I should go from protesting my innocence, as was established on most of the charges, to protestations of guilt and shame because a jury found against me on a quarter of the counts. On to appeal," he wrote.

If the judge wasn't already aware of Lord Black's comments, she will be made aware of them by the U.S. government, former U.S. prosecutor Jacob Frenkel said yesterday.

"The judge likely would be in the process of making her decision now," he said. "The absence of remorse under any circumstances is not helpful before sentencing.

"While there would be no increase in the sentence because of the comments, when the judge has to decide where in a range to impose a sentence, it's the intangibles, including attitude, that can impact the decision," he added.

In what was billed as Lord Black's first interview with the British media since his conviction this summer, the former head of Hollinger International Inc. told the BBC last week that he has not suffered a fall from grace, but a "persecution."

Lord Black spoke as his book about former U.S. president Richard Nixon is being distributed in the United Kingdom.

"It's more than four years ago that the U.S. government set upon me, and I feel that I've held my corner quite well," he said. "They started out with all that nonsense about a $500-million kleptocracy and racketeering and looting and personal enrichment at the expense of the shareholders. All of that's gone over the side ... anyone who actually looks at the evolution of the case and the evidence supporting the charges will see what rubbish it is," Lord Black told the British broadcaster.

"This is not an honour I sought, but it has been my honour to show the shortcomings of the plea-bargain system and the shortcomings of the corporate governance zealots."

During his interview, Lord Black discussed the predicament he's facing when it comes to expressing his opinions.

"One of the problems I've had is, in asserting my innocence, I'm accused of being defiant or being in denial," he said. "If I appeared and sounded humble, I would be described as a broken, disgraced man who is admitting he's a criminal. Well, the fact is I am innocent.

"When you are wrongly accused, how do you conduct yourself?" he asked. "Do you roll over and say 'Well, I'm innocent, but since I've been found guilty, I'm going to be humble and full of remorse?' I would have thought not."

Lord Black also lashed out at the British press, who he said are missing a big part of the story.

"At least in the United States people know how their system operates and there's a fair amount of cynicism about this sort of thing," he said. "I think the conventional media wisdom in the U.K. is a kind of false bourgeois piety and priggishness that assumes that whatever American prosecutors say is true."

Mr. Frenkel suggested that Lord Black has a point.

"He is absolutely correct in his assessment about the over-zealousness of corporate fraud prosecutions, but that does not mean his was not warranted," he said.

"There's no question that the conviction of [ex-Enron CEO] Jeffrey Skilling warranted jail, but when drug dealers and murderers are serving fewer than the 24 years he will be serving, there is certainly an inequity."

Ronald Safer, the lawyer representing one of Conrad Black's co-accused, Mark Kipnis, said he's not worried that Lord Black's comments will impact his client's sentence.

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