Conrad Black

I’ll be back

And I have scores to settle

Text settings

It has been confusing for anyone relying on the British media to fathom what has happened over the eight years of my persecution in the United States. And the volume of affecting messages I have received from the UK indicates that there remains some curiosity about it there. The short story is that a greenmailing shareholder who was trying to force the sale of the company (Hollinger International), and a quick realisation on the capital appreciation we had made in what had ceased to be a growth industry (newspapers), agitated for what is called in the United States a Special Committee, in 2003. This would look into all grievances of the requesting shareholder, and I agreed at once, as I had nothing to hide.

The Special Committee engaged as its counsel Richard Breeden, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who had turned corporate governance into a vastly profitable business. Breeden discovered that an associate of mine had committed crimes (of which I was the principal victim), and I made an agreement with Breeden to co-manage the company while everything was examined. Breeden violated the agreement at once, represented me to the media as a thief, denied me any access to management and cut off all benefits, down to my corporate email address. My fellow director (and friend, as he remains) Henry Kissinger sponsored ‘substantive talks’, and while I was proposing a variety of innovative disentanglements advantageous to all parties, Breeden sued my associates and me for $200 million and caused me to be fired as chairman of the company that I had founded and always led.

I sold the parent company to the Barclays, who notified the New York Stock Exchange of their readiness to offer $18 for all shares. Breeden forced the rejection of the offer by the acting (in both senses of the word) management. He sold the Telegraph separately to the Barclays at the same price I had arranged, but without any offer to the shareholders generally (which would have shut down Breeden’s sinecure of over $1 million per week). Breeden was much praised by the Economist and the British media. Our former Telegraph city editor, (Neil Collins), and chief legal reporter were among the enthusiastic British supporters of the Delaware judge who accepted that Breeden would do better for the shareholders than what we had produced. There was almost no discernible loyalty from the Telegraph-Spectator journalists, except Dominic Lawson, Charles Moore, Boris Johnson, and a few others. The disparagements of my unoffending and magnificently supportive wife, Barbara Amiel, were particularly vile and vulgar.

The Special Committee report, published in September 2004, accused me of conducting a ‘$500 million corporate kleptocracy,’ among many scurrilities, and promised to lead the company to undreamt-of levels of profitability. It generated, as it was designed to do, a massive criminal prosecution, and also the largest libel suit in Canadian history, by me. My delinquent associate earned a six-month golfing and equestrian holiday in one of Her Majesty the Queen’s correctional facilities as consideration for an avalanche of incriminating perjury against his closest associates, in the highest traditions of the American plea bargain, on which the whole US justice system is based. Of the 17 criminal charges against me, for which life imprisonment and the complete impoverishment of my family were sought, four were not proceeded with or were abandoned, nine were rejected by the jury, and the remaining four were vacated unanimously by the Supreme Court of the United States. After serving 29 months in a federal prison for the four initial convictions, in a very fulfilling role as a tutor to disadvantaged fellow residents who had not matriculated from secondary school (it was immensely gratifying that all graduated), I was released on bail in July 2010. In another of the bizarreries of the American system, the appellate judges excoriated by the Supreme Court in their treatment of my appeal were given the case back to assess the gravity of their errors.

The appellate panel chairman, a demiurgically opinionated person who makes Bacon’s ‘much-talking’ judge seem sphinx-like, salvaged what he could of his dignity and of the prosecution’s case by resuscitating two of the counts in a gymnastic legal exercise. Launched now, on a stand-alone basis, even in America, let alone Britain or Canada, those fatuous charges would be thrown out like dead mice. But the trial judge, when I appeared before her last week, sawed the baby in two and preserved the tatters of the fiction that there was ever a reason to charge us in the first place, and sent me back to prison for about seven and a half months, starting in August.

The company was driven into bankruptcy by Breeden in 2007, vapourising $2 billion of shareholders’ equity, after Breeden had milked it, with his accomplices, of $300 million, which assisted Breeden to try his hand, and fail, as a hedge fund manager. The greenmailing founder of the Special Committee lost $70 million for his investors, publicly repented, and committed suicide from alcoholism. Barbara, contrary to the predictions of my one-time protégé Max Hastings and others, visited me at least once a week in prison, even when she had to come directly from China to do it. And my libel case against Breeden and others for the report that led to the prosecution, which was received with such window-rattling enthusiasm on what used to be Fleet Street, is being settled with a $6 million payment to me, by far the largest payment in a libel suit in Canadian history. Bower will be next.

These eight years have been difficult, but interesting. I will leave the United States in March, and will not return. But Barbara and I do look forward to returning to Britain next spring, and seeing our friends, including those who so graciously visited me when I was in the belly of the American beast.