The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 4 (wherein Barbara calls Conrad “Fat Fingers,” and the white-collar crime ramps up)
Those non-competition payments bite Black in the hiney this week as Hollinger’s audit committee begins a thorough investigation into the company’s funds. To no one’s surprise—except the Baron’s—it is revealed that the payments (totalling $30 million) made when Hollinger sold off its American papers, were not, in fact, formally authorized. But everyone told Black they were okay, you see, and since he didn’t bother double-checking, this development knocked the wind right out of him.
The Hollinger board, which Black describes in excruciatingly boring detail—we’ll spare you and just say that it consists of Henry Kissinger and a bunch of other old white people—is forced to conduct a formal investigation into the undisclosed sum. Conrad, ever the trusting soul, relies on the clemency of the board, and believes that their collegial bond will protect him. (Hint: it doesn’t).
The inquiry culminates in a dramatic showdown between Black, the board’s Gordon Paris and Jim Thompson, and Richard Breeden. Breeden, as many of us know, is Black’s arch nemesis—the Joker to his Batman, the Moby Dick to his Ahab, the Veronica to his Betty. Breeden was the rascal from the S.E.C. appointed by the Hollinger board to conduct an investigation into those missing doubloons, that authored a 500-page report on Black’s alleged misconduct and was later named in an $872 million libel suit by Black against those who conspired against him. Boo! Hiss!
Anyway, at the meeting, Black agrees that if the money was taken improperly, then it should be replaced, probably thinking that he can just write a cheque and be done with the whole thing. But Breeden means business: under his advisement, Conrad is stripped of his CEO title, shunted into a non-executive chairmanship (his alleged co-conspirator, David Radler, is booted altogether) and returns home in shame to a loving email from Barbara addressing him as “Fat Fingers.” Apparently this is meant to make him feel better.
In the words of the Lord:
• On Richard Breeden’s lovely looks: “Breeden’s appearance was not reassuring: round, flabby face; dull, lifeless eyes behind thick spectacles; a brusque, humourless and unimaginative demeanour.”
• On the betrayal of the board: “The full force of the joyful malice of our enemies was about to fall like a pack of famished wolves on me.”
• On his unceremonious dismissal from the board: “The controlling shareholder was to be transformed at once into a eunuch, bound hand and foot to Breeden’s war chariot.”