A man who has socialised with the likes of Elton and Donald Trump has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of cheating Hollinger stockholders out of $80 million while selling off company assets.
Conrad Black is also accused of illegally billing Hollinger for a vacation on the Pacific island of Bora Bora; dinners with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; a $60,000 birthday party for his second wife, Barbara Amiel; and a $90,000 restoration of his antique Rolls Royce.
If Black is convicted of all counts, he could be sentenced to up to 101 years in prison, although a significantly lesser sentence is likely. Three other former Hollinger executives are going on trial along with him.
“I’m convinced he thinks he’s innocent,” Peter C. Newman, an author and journalist who has written extensively about Black, told The Canadian Press. “This is a man who has a huge opinion of himself and genuinely doesn’t believe that he could be dishonest, that he could do some of the things that he’s charged with.”
The 62-year-old was chairman of the third-largest newspaper group in the world, which owned the London Telegraph, the Toronto-based National Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, and more than 500 community newspapers in Canada and the U.S.
Black was the company chairman and CEO before he was forced out in 2003. Since his empire crashed amid a storm of shareholder lawsuits and criminal charges, all the large papers except the Sun-Times have been sold and the name of the company has been changed to the Sun-Times Media Group.
In an interview earlier this month with the National Post, the newspaper he founded in 1998, Black said he was confident public opinion was finally beginning to turn in his favor.
“It took an adjustment for people to think of me as an underdog, but that’s what has happened,” he said. “And compared to the U.S. government, the most powerful institution in the world, most everybody is an underdog.”
Black’s chief Canadian defense attorney, Edward L. Greenspan, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that his client is misunderstood, that his intelligence is sometimes mistaken for arrogance.
Black himself believes a jury of Americans will do the right thing.
“I have never had the slightest doubt of the outcome of a fair trial, knowing that the judgment of the legality of my actions will lie in the hands of 12 American citizens, in one of that country’s greatest cities. …,” he wrote in Tatler. He said that after he is acquitted, he and Lady Black will divide their time between London and Canada.