Skip navigation

Defiant Black won't back down

Canadian Press

TORONTO — Conrad Black will not back down, nor will he apologize.

There are scant days left until the former newspaper magnate will hear how long he is to spend in jail for fraud and obstruction of justice, but Lord Black is facing sentencing with the steely defiance he displayed throughout his four-month trial, refusing to let a Chicago court pass judgement upon his legacy.

His dramatic arrogance and candidly dismissive attitude could result in a harsher sentence on Dec. 10, many legal observers have noted, but Lord Black has rejected the notion he atone for controversial remarks made outside the courtroom.

“I will not presume to predict what the judge might do, but since I am in fact, not guilty, and the evidence is so flimsy, I assume reasonable people understand that it would be neither believable nor sensible if I suddenly started spouting false remorse for acts I did not commit,” Lord Black said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press ahead of the sentencing.

“I made it clear on (a recent BBC interview) that I was not slagging off the U.S. justice system, that it was one of the 10 best in the world, and I was extremely respectful of the judge in this case.”

The patrician, jet-setting press baron once headed one of the world's largest newspaper empires, owned mansions in Toronto, Florida, London and New York and threw lavish parties for some of the world's most powerful people. Born in Montreal, he gave up his Canadian citizen in 2001 after a dispute with then-prime minister Jean Chrétien over his nomination to Britain's House of Lords.

He remains vocal about his convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice, calling them an “injustice” against “an innocent man fighting for his life.”

Lord Black vowed he would be vindicated after the guilty verdict came down in July. But he had begun trying to shape public perception of his trial long before he set foot in a Chicago courtroom.

He has vehemently defended his innocence, calling the allegations against him a “monstrous defamation,” and has maintained that line of defence since the end of trial.

In the BBC interview, Lord Black said he it had been his “honour to show the shortcomings of the plea bargain system and the shortcomings of the corporate governance zealots.”

He also asserted that any time served behind bars, would mean he is “merely participating in compounding the injustice, which will be the accepted fact of this case before too long.”

He later told CBC that he would cope with prison “if it comes,” adding that “prison would be a bore but quite endurable.”

George Tombs, chronicled Lord Black's legal troubles in a recent biography titled “Robber Baron,” said Lord Black's comments since the verdict were “true to character.”

“He is a person who is self-deluded,” Mr. Tombs said. “He was able to build up a truly amazing collection of newspapers... but at some point, there's that other side of him that says : ‘I'll just do what I have to do.”'

“He doesn't seem to recognize that something has actually happened: there's been a criminal trial, a verdict has come down and he's been found guilty on several very serious charges.”

Friends and observers have said the loss of reputation would most haunt Lord Black, 63, more than the spectre of jail time, because the military expert and published historian will find it difficult to stomach the fact that the first draft of his own history will be written by his enemies.

“Conrad Black perhaps has decided he is not going to be stifled,” said James Morton, head of litigation at Steinberg Morton Hope and Israel in Toronto and president of the Ontario Bar Association.

“If he's going to jail, he's going to go to jail with his head held high, proclaiming his innocence, and if that lengthened his stay in jail, so be it. He is man who looks to history to vindicate him, rather than the current tempest that surrounds him.”

Lord Black's romantic self-portrayal as a victim of circumstance may come to an abrupt halt, however, when he is actually confronted with the realities of life behind bars — especially because his choice to renounce his Canadian citizenship makes ineligible for a minimum security prison.

“He's someone who has certain psychological vulnerabilities. He's also a very self-involved person and a very narcissistic person,” Mr. Tombs said.

“People like that can block out the rest of the world for a while but when they are fenced in in a prison, it's going to be hard for him to maintain that kind of bubble.”

“The reality check is going to be other people showing him that he's no better than they are, he's a convict just like them.”

Lord Black's defiance throughout the trial was described by his lawyers as “optimism” stemming from his religious faith and positive view of the world and one that his detractors have characterized as the very arrogance that led to his most serious criminal conviction — obstruction of justice.

Jurors have said one of the most convincing pieces of evidence against Lord Black was the videotape showing him lugging boxes of files from his office despite a court order to the contrary — an act described as that of an entitled businessman who felt he could control his circumstances.

Rick Powers, a University of Toronto professor who followed the trial, considers Lord Black's comments bravado from a man who “believes, for the most part that he is above all this.”

But despite the public criticism of Lord Black's perceived arrogance and sense of entitlement, Mr. Powers said “people are actually becoming a little impressed” with his campaign.

“He's been able to maintain his composure, he's never really gotten angry,” Mr. Powers said. “He has made his comments, he's backed them up with what he feels is the correct information but all along he's maintained his dignity, he's even maintained a sense of humour in many respects.”

His attitude failed to win him any points with prosecutors, who asked Judge Amy St. Eve to factor Lord Black's lack of remorse into his punishment and jail him for 20 years.

But Lord Black's chief sentencing lawyer, Jeffrey Steinback, said his client hadn't said anything that “constitutes the slightest disrespect for the process or the court.”

“You have to appreciate, any individual who has been through an ordeal of the length and intensity that he has is going to have strong feelings on the subject,” Mr. Steinback said.

Lord Black's troubles began in 2003, when U.S. and Canadian regulators disclosed they were investigating allegations Black and other top Hollinger executives had pocketed millions of dollars in unauthorized fees. That set off a series of lawsuits and accusations against Lord Black, culminating in a more than a dozen fraud and related charges in 2005.

Then came the ultimate betrayal: his long-time deputy, David Radler, agreed to testify against him in return for a 29-month sentence.

On Monday, Lord Black will have one last chance to speak before Judge St. Eve before his “war” with the U.S. government moves to its next phase: appeal.

Mr. Steinback said he “expects that Mr. Black will exercise (his) right” to speak at sentencing, but Lord Black himself was more ambiguous.

“If I speak in court on Monday, I will not be giving advance notice of it,” he said.

“I thought that the audio (tapes) of the 2002 and 2003 shareholders' meeting (played in court by the prosecutors) gave everyone some sense of me.”

Any defendant in a criminal trial is given the option at speak at sentencing, a decision that ultimately lies with the individual, just like the choice to testify during a trial.

“I always tell my clients in those circumstances to just shut up, but Conrad Black may speak,” Mr. Morton said.

“It won't make any difference at all...but it may be that he says something so the world hears what he has to say.”

Recommend this article? 126 votes

Back to top