Tuesday, 19 May 2009

It's Coz He Is Black

Mark Steyn makes the point below that, notwithstanding Conrad Black's arrogant assumptions that his listed company should pay for the odd birthday party for his wife, and the odd private jet trip to Bora Bora, his wrongdoing pales into insignificance compared to the corporate malfeasance that has come to light in the banks.

Six and a half years for Black was ludicrous. I like him, despite his faults; give me a brave centre-right media baron with a passion for history any day over the scheming republican Dirty Digger or the politically ambivalent tax dodging Barclay Bros.

They should let him out immediately. They have ruined him, and his company, which was run into the ground after the suspension of his management. Given that he was brought to court for 'theft' from his shareholders, it is ironic that his removal resulted in the shareholders' almost total loss.

A long-shot appeal Mark Steyn

My old boss Conrad Black is currently serving a six-and-a-half year sentence in Coleman, Florida for a "crime" that looks like chump change next to almost anything you've read on the business pages since last September. Meanwhile, the price of the Justice Department's pursuit of Conrad has been the destruction of one of the few American corporations that knew how to run a newspaper.
During his trial, I came to the conclusion that the federal justice system was a kind of capricious steamroller and that, once it had determined to flatten him, he'd be better off saving his gazillions in legal fees and climbing under the tarp in the bed of my truck and letting me drive him over the border to Quebec and thence by fishing boat to a remote landing strip on Miquelon where a waiting plane could spirit him somewhere beyond the reach of the US Attorney. Stuff and nonsense, said Conrad. He was not a fugitive but an innocent man, and eventually he would be vindicated by this great republic.
Amazingly, he seems to have inched a smidgeonette closer to that today: '
US Supreme Court To Review Conrad Black's Conviction'.
Almost every "expert" thought this was a pathetic if expensive last roll of the dice that would come up empty, so congratulations are in order. As to the alternative options, in the Spectator, Taki provides this glimpse behind the curtain:
Brian Mulroney, the ex-prime minister of Canada, and Tony Blair both went to see W in order to plead Conrad Black’s case during the closing days of the Bush presidency. The two men went separately, and neither asked for a Black pardon. They were after a commutation of Lord Black’s outrageous and unfair sentence of six years in a tough prison. ‘I don’t pardon well-connected folk,’ was the answer, which sounds good, just like weapons of mass destruction did...
I'm not an ex-Prime Minister or especially well-connected, but I wrote to the White House on Conrad's behalf and I regret that President Bush chose to frame the issue in terms that having nothing to do either with the principles of justice or the merits of the case.


Philipa said...

Good post, Idle.

Nomad said...

Ah! Bora Bora... To sit under a palm tree by the beach with a tall glass of something ice cold and mightily refreshing and watch the girls (er, topless, did I mention that?) go by on the back of their boyfriends' Vespas.

Mr B knew a good thing when he saw it!

Memories, no they can't take them away from us.

Anonymous said...

Yes - I'm getting a bit tired of the Daily Telegraph under the ownership of Ronnie and Reggie Barclay.

The question is - what is the best paper to read in the morning?

idle said...

On a Friday morning, Lakes, the Spectator joins me in the throneroom.

On a Saturday, it would be the Racing Post.

Tuscan Tony said...

The Grauniad is increasingly the option, in a world of The Murdoch Times and The Sark Telegraph.

idle said...

Truth be told, it's www.politicshome.com where one can read all the comment pages and columns for free.

William Gruff said...

' ... Given that he was brought to court for 'theft' from his shareholders, it is ironic that his removal resulted in the shareholders' almost total loss ... '

Surely, Idle, you do not doubt that the 'public interest', not to mention the small matter of justice, (regardless of the particular jurisdiction) was served?

Footnote: I ought to make it clear that I hope the irony in my comment is obvious even though I know that irony does not 'travel'.

idle said...

Wm, your irony travelled far enough for detection in Sussex.

Probably wouldn't have travelled across the Atlantic, though.

Alceste said...

Sorry Idle, you are way off beam here. The man systematically fleeced his companies' shareholders for his own ends and those of his grotesque wife. He set up subsidiary companies with skewed voting rights and stuffed their boards with this express aim. He raped a pension fund a la Maxwell until the courts found against him. He was rightly a pariah in the City ever since he lied to the market in the mid 90s and Cazenove resigned his brokership.

It's not good enough to say the current bankers are no better. I hold no brief for them, but they did not set out deliberately and systematically to steal from their investors. Black did just that and he deserves to be where he is.

idle said...

The wife is a grotesque, I agree.

He was quite open about trying to claim the pension fund surplus as belonging to the company, not the pensioners. The case was a close one, and resulted in no more than an order to return the surplus. No penalty.

As for the US case against him - they threw out most of the charges, and pretty much the whole deal revolved on the non-competes. Steyn said this after the verdict:

The obstruction-of-justice conviction stands a sporting chance of being overturned: the notion that you’re obstructing justice in an American case that has not yet been brought because in clearing out an office in Canada from which you’re being evicted you happen also to take documents the US investigators already have copies of is not only a stretch but an unprecedented jurisdictional overreach by the Justice Department. With a better defence, he would never have been nailed on it in the first place. But it’s not inconceivable Conrad Black could get it tossed out on appeal and see his sentence reduced by two-thirds.
But that still leaves the conviction for on the “non-competes”. He was acquitted on almost all of them, but not quite all, and so, starting today, he’s a jailbird. The “non-competes” were payments made by purchasers of Hollinger newspapers to the company’s management in order to get them to agree not to come back into town and start a rival newspaper. The argument – by federal prosecutors, minority shareholders, the usurper management – is that the “non-compete” payments should have gone to Hollinger International rather than to Black & Co because, after all, it’s Hollinger the company not Black the individual that the purchasers didn’t want to compete with. But the fate of the post-Black Hollinger – now known as Sun-Times Media Group – is the best refutation of the anti-Black case. Without Black and his pals, there is no Hollinger, and nobody who knows how to run a newspaper, and certainly nobody you’d ever bother paying a “non-compete” fee to. Whoever buys the flailing Chicago Sun-Times when the eventual fire sale comes won’t be paying a “non-compete” to the septuagenarian banana marketer (as Conrad calls him) currently running the company or to the Sun-Times Media Group because none of them have a clue how to operate a newspaper business. The other day, the share price fell below a buck and trading was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange.
Whatever their differences with Conrad, the disaffected shareholders ought to realize by now that in demanding a Hollinger without Black they were pursuing a chimera. The birdbrains who succeeded him couldn’t even sell off the company. The only lucrative sale – of the London Telegraph to the Barclay brothers – was essentially Conrad’s last deal. Since then the ever shriveling empire has been a goldmine only for lawyers and “special investigators” and other parasites. The choice was between a Black-run Hollinger or a dead husk of a company.

William Gruff said...

LMFAO Idle: G,S & M to you, I think, or as, in gentler times, 'they' used to say: Your game sir.

Alceste said...

Most unfair, Idle. That's a bit like playing poker with me; and seeing my fourpence and raising me a million pounds!

I'm far too busy (ok, lazy) to research your reams of Steyn. He is a loon, albeit a very entertaining one.

But if I'm not going to engage you in argument, I had better leave the field to you. Your game indeed.

idle said...

It was not my intention, alceste, to send an aircraft carrier in response to a minor territorial incursion.

It's just that Steyn was close to hand; I followed his splendid blog through the Black court case so I knew what I was looking for.

Let's just call it a win under the Duckworth/Lewis method.

rvi said...

Being remarkably uninformed on matters cricketing (although I did note that England gave the WIndies another good thumping this week), may I ask if the Lewis you refer to above is any relation to the one just banged up for 13 years for cocaine smuggling? TQVM

idle said...

Happy to oblige, rvi:

Lewis is, indeed, the coke-smuggler. And Duckworth is the manufacturer of floating houseboats for Mallard and Indian Runner ducks, as seen on the television news today.

They devised a cunning method by which to award victory in an unfinished cricket match; the method is the square root of the grams of cocaine ingested by the batting team divided by the amount, in ounces, of poultry droppings on the outfield.

I'll keep you posted on the progress of the Ashes from early July.

rvi said...

Idle: Thanks. Stupid twit.

[ him, not you!! :-) ]

Call me Infidel said...

Excellent post Idle.