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I Stand Before the Court
The quest for justice continues.


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Conrad Black

Many readers will recall some of the episodes in the lengthy battle I have had with the U.S. Justice Department and those who aroused it, over the last eight years. In 2003, I agreed to the setting up of a special committee, at Hollinger International — our newspaper company that we built into one of the largest newspaper companies in the world — as a greenmailing shareholder, trying to force the immediate sale of the company, demanded; I was happy to do it, as I had nothing to hide. One of my associates was soon discovered, in 2003, to have made some illegal transactions (of which I was the principal victim). I made a co-management agreement with the Special Committee counsel, Richard Breeden, former SEC chairman, while matters were sorted out. Breeden violated every part of the agreement, eliminated my functions and my income, and began feeding the press the unfounded claim that I was a thief. We were in the midst of “substantive discussions” for a resolution of our differences, sponsored by my co-director and friend (who remains my friend), Henry Kissinger, when we learned from the press that Breeden had sued us for $200 million, and then caused me to be fired as chairman. I sold the company, with the promise of a follow-up offer to all shareholders at $18 per share, and Breeden caused the offer to be rejected and convinced a gullible Delaware equity judge that he would do better for the shareholders.

 

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The Special Committee report, in September 2004, made fantastic allegations against my associates and me, and generated a massive criminal prosecution against us, and the largest libel suit in Canadian history by me against Breeden and his accomplices. All counts in the prosecution were abandoned, rejected by the jurors, or vacated unanimously by the U.S. Supreme Court, though not before I spent 29 months in a federal prison (in very satisfying work tutoring secondary-school matriculation candidates — all passed, more than 100 of them). In the unique American manner, after excoriating the appellate-court panel chairman for misinterpreting the statute under which the prosecutors mainly charged, the Supreme Court invited that notoriously opinionated and idiosyncratic judge (who once proposed that adoption of children be by auction and has described himself as “callous” and “cruel”), to assess the gravity of his own errors. In an epic feat of casuistry, as mentioned below, he managed to salvage some tatters of supposed dignity for himself and the government by resurrecting two counts (of the 17 with which the prosecutors began). Breeden and the others are settling my libel case with by far the biggest payment to anyone in the history of Canadian defamation law, and the trial judge sawed the baby in half, pretended there was something left of the prosecution case, jettisoned half my original sentence, and will send me back to prison for a victory lap of seven and a half months.

 

My dear American friends, I will leave the United States at the end of my sentence in March and will not be eligible to return. The unlimited power of an unaccountable and often lawless prosecution is gnawing at the bowels of this democracy. On behalf of all foreigners who love America, as I have loved it, I implore you to address this terrible problem.

The following are my remarks at the resentencing hearing in Chicago, at the Federal District Court, Northern Division of Illinois, on June 24.

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On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, the fact that the counts that had survived the trial were under appeal spoke for itself, and I didn’t think it appropriate to say much more. As we are now back, one last time, in your court, at the weary end of this very long and fiercely contested proceeding, there are a few things that I think should be said.

The prosecutors have never ceased to accuse me of being defiant of the law, of disrespecting the courts, and of being an antagonistic critic of the American justice system. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have obeyed every order of this and other courts, every requirement of the United States Probation Office, in this and other cities, and while I was its guest, every rule and regulation of the Bureau of Prisons, no matter how authoritarian. I have been and remain completely and unwaveringly submissive to legal authority, yours in particular.

What I have done is exercise my absolute right to legal self-defense, a right guaranteed to everyone who is drawn into the court system of this and every other civilized country. All my adult life I have been a member of the moderate section of what is commonly called the law-and-order community, and I shall remain in it, whatever sentence you impose on me today. I always keep a firewall between my own travails and my perception of public-policy issues; otherwise I would retain no credibility as a commentator.



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