Friday, November 25, 2005

Black Prodigal: Conrad Wants to Come Home

PEJ News - C. L. Cook - Facing an imminent court date in the United States for multiple counts of fraud, former Canadian media magnate, Conrad Black is now applying to regain the citizenship he so flamboyantly discarded en route to his peerage in the U.K.

Black Prodigal:
Conrad Wants to Come Home
C. L. Cook

PEJ News
November 25, 2005

Karma Balls, Served Fresh

Despite their reputation for compassion and fair play, few if any Canadians are shedding tears of concern for the further embattled Lord Black. The trials of the man who would be, if not King, at least Lord of Blackharbour, who not only forsook his home and native land, but shat upon the weenie-headed peon citizenry of an entire country on his way to the hallowed halls of the British House of Lords, is more an occasion for celebration, a welcome schadenfreude, a cheery interlude to brighten the overlong northern winters all those sucker-Canucks grand Conrad left long behind to endure.

Just a few short years ago, the media baron was flying high and his only remaining hurdle to equalling, in his own mind at least, the accomplishments of a Canadian press legend of another era, Lord Beaverbrook, was a British title. Black's megalithic, Hollinger Inc., one of the planet's biggest circulation media company, pulling in hundreds of millions a year seemed unassailable, his own position at the head of the board irreproachable. So, when Canada's then Prime Minister, no doubt nothing more than a cretin frog to the imperious Conrad, blocked his ambitions of a peerage citing an ancient law forbidding Canadian citizens hold British titles, the Lord to be burned his passport, searing the entire nation for good measure on his departure.

Canada's collective joy at the rumoured fall of the house of Black began modestly, just a flicker of hope, a spark of scandal, too bold yet to hope kindling enough to light a pyre under the peerless Conrad's meteoric career. The bombastic Mr. Black had lorded over Canadians from his media throne for decades, hobnobbing with the princes and potentates of global politically and financial power so Canadians can be forgiven their conservatism if they believed it unlikely the behemoth at the head of Hollinger could be brought low by as blunt a tool as the law of the land. And, had it been a strictly Canadian affair, Black would probably be home-free. But the apparent transgressions leaping from Hollinger's ledgers are a matter of concern to American justice too.

Bringing Down the Moose

Tragedy, in the theatrical sense, requires irony and timing: "If not for the ... all would have been different." And so it is with Conrad, who had the misfortune to have his scene of the crime fall under the purview of the United States Attorney for Northern Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald. That's the same Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald currently giving the Bush administration a prolonged case of loose-bowel syndrome with his Grand Jury investigation into the disclosure of the secret identity of a deep-cover CIA agent. Fitzgerald is big enough to deal with one Conrad. And, he's got a lot to work with.

Britain's Guardian provides a stunning time-line, listing some of the areas of concern for the court, including the ultra-lavish lifestyle Lord and Lady Black enjoyed, allegedly at the expense of Hollinger International's shareholders. It seems few too cry for Conrad on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Crux of the Matter

Improprieties it seems with the way money was being spread around the publicly-traded Hollinger. Accounting problems were showing up and audits ordered by the company's board of directors. And, as the Romans would say if they were as monumental as the Man Himself, "All roads lead to Conrad." Or so the board surmised before unceremoniously turfing the founding director and filing a massive law suit suing for hundreds of millions they contend pilfered from the company over a period of years by Black and his accomplices.

The wheels came off for Conrad when long-time confidant and business partner F. David Radner, named as a co-conspirator, copped a plea with Fitzgerald's investigation. Radner, facing up to 30 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines took the expedient root and now, Black is on the hook, looking at real jail time in the States. Thus, cynics aver, his suddenly renewed enamour with Canada and its "liberal" judicial system; a system his papers oft criticized in the past for its bleeding heart.

But, in one of those queer turns of the Fates, Canada's recent efforts to more closely emulate less "wet" neighbour America, new legislation barring the granting citizenship to those convicted in foreign jurisdictions, Black may find himself out of luck should he be convicted.

For those that believe he hopes to garner again his Canadian identity to then serve his sentence in the country where he enjoyed vast political sway, the proposed law would prove a Catch 22 for the Lord of Blackharbour.

Chris Cook
is a contributing editor to PEJ News. He also hosts Gorilla Radio, a weekly pubic affairs program, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada. You can check out the GR Blog here.

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