Convict him of arrogance, pomposity and verbosity!
At various stages throughout Conrad Black’s trial I was fortunate to correspond with an august British author and pillar of The City whose views I counted on for their insight, wit and wisdom. With the trial a long way behind us, he agreed—“strictly not for attribution”—to comment broadly for publication on the case and its ramifications. Here are the choicest remarks:
• I consider [Conrad Black’s] positive contributions to our society [to] outweigh the negative ones. This is not to excuse his ‘crimes’ as determined by the Chicago jury, although it is worth noting that he was acquitted on more of the charges than he was convicted. Those crimes, in my opinion, were, however, more the result of greed and bad judgment than criminal intent. I could also convict him of arrogance, pomposity and verbosity!
• One should appreciate him as a talented biographer, e.g., [his writing on] Duplessis, FDR and Nixon (incidentally, all these books are extremely long; it was once said of one of Henry Kissinger’s equally long tomes, ‘I don’t know if Dr. Kissinger is a good writer, but I do know that you have to be a very good reader’) and as the man who rescued the Daily Telegraph, the largest circulation quality daily newspaper in the U.K. Without Black’s courageous investment, this 150-year-old newspaper would not exist today, but it does, and it is successful and a large employer. Black was known as a good owner who did not interfere with editorial policy, but when he had a disagreement with such policy he would write a letter to the editor, which the editor could, and did, publish.
• I always found Black an agreeable and amusing companion with a fount of historical knowledge and political comment that was always entertaining.
• I agree the board of Hollinger—or was it the audit committee?—are culpable for having approved the various non-compete payments to Conrad. (Incidentally, they were in effect bonus payments paid in a tax-effective form. That does not excuse the amounts or the deceit involved in dressing them up as payments required by the purchasers.)
• I have no view on whether Black should remain a member of the House of Lords, although on balance I think it is unlikely he will. Lord Archer (Jeffrey Archer, the novelist) spent about a year in jail having been convicted of perjury. Somehow he has retained his peerage, and I have been told it was because his jail sentence was a year or less. I cannot confirm whether this is correct.
• As to Richard Breeden, it is my understanding that he and his team charged enormous fees to Hollinger over an extended period of time, and I believe there is some evidence that he used his appointment there (which was made by Black himself, I think) to advance his own career, particularly in regard to a sort of corporate governance–oriented hedge fund he was establishing, and of which I have no details. I very much doubt whether his role was in any way helpful to the shareholders of Hollinger.