Conrad Black

Conrad Moffat Black, Lord Black of Crossharbour, newspaper publisher, author, columnist and historian (born 25 August 1944 in Montreal, QC). Conrad Black owned and published a large network of newspapers in Canada and abroad between 1969 and 2004. He was convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007 and served a prison sentence in the United States. However, Black was pardoned for his convictions in 2019 by US president Donald Trump. He is a well-known author and columnist on history and politics.



Conrad Black, businessman

Key Terms

Appeal: An application to a higher court to review the decision of a lower court.

Fraud: Tricking someone to gain money or other benefits. Fraud is illegal.

Holding company: A company created to buy and hold shares in other companies, which it then controls.

House of Lords: A part of British Parliament whose members are unelected peers and bishops. Independent from the elected House of Commons, it helps shape laws and keep government accountable.

Obstruction of justice: Interference with the process of justice, which can include threatening or influencing witnesses, jurors, lawyers and judges.

Pardon: Official forgiveness for a crime. A pardon usually erases a criminal record (see also Royal Prerogative of Mercy).

Subsidiary: A company that is owned by another company (usually called the parent company).

Early Life and Education

Conrad Black is the second son of George Montegu Black and Jean Elizabeth Riley. George was president of Canadian Breweries and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Black was educated at Upper Canada College, Trinity College School, Thornton Hall and Osgoode Hall. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Carleton University in 1965, a law degree from Université Laval in 1970 and a master’s degree in history from McGill University in 1973.

McGill University
The McGill Arts Building, completed in 1843 and designed by John Ostell, is the oldest standing building on campus.

Business Career

While he was still a law student, Conrad Black started buying rural newspapers with business partners Peter White and David Radler. They bought the Eastern Townships Advertiser and Sherbrooke Daily Record in 1969.

When his parents died, Black inherited a stake in a holding company, Ravelston Corporation Limited. He used this inheritance to take over Argus Corporation and its subsidiary, Hollinger International.

Black gradually sold off traditional Argus investments until Hollinger was its only company. In 1985, he began buying quality newspapers, including the London Daily TelegraphJerusalem PostChicago Sun-Times and Sydney Morning Herald. In 1996, he arranged a takeover of the Southam chain of Canadian newspapers (see Conrad Black: Profile).

Black launched the National Post in 1998 to compete with the Globe and Mail (see National Post Launched). Based in Toronto, the National Post was the largest and most important paper in the Southam chain.

Several years later, Black sold his Canadian newspaper chain to Canwest Global Communications Corporation for $3.2 billion (see also Black Puts Up Newspapers for Sale; Black Sees Empire Diminished). As part of the deal, he was paid $74 million not to compete with Canwest Global. Soon after, directors at Hollinger claimed that Black and Radler were paying themselves unauthorized salaries. There were further claims that Black had paid himself millions of dollars in company money through a series of deals he had made in his own interest.

Black resigned as chairman and chief executive of Hollinger International in 2003 (see Conrad Black’s Fall). Soon after, he lost control of his press empire ( see Black Laid Low in Delaware Court).

Criminal Charges and Imprisonment

In 2005, Conrad Black’s long-time business partner David Radler agreed to cooperate with US investigators in exchange for a lighter sentence (see Former Associate to Testify against Conrad Black). Black was charged with mail fraud and obstruction of justice (see Conrad Black Charged with Fraud; Black Indicted over Non-Compete Clause). He was convicted in 2007 largely due to Radler’s testimony against him. He received a 78-month jail sentence from a Chicago district court judge. The judge found him guilty of defrauding shareholders and obstructing justice. (See also Black Undone by Small Transactions; Conrad Black’s New Life Behind Bars.)

Black appealed his conviction to the US Supreme Court. He claimed that the trial judge incorrectly instructed the jury on the interpretation of some aspects of the fraud charges.

A US Supreme Court decision in June 2010 set aside three of his fraud convictions. The next month, Black was granted bail. In October, a US appeals court overturned two of his three criminal fraud convictions. However, it upheld his guilty verdict for obstruction of justice.

In June 2011, the US district court in Chicago resentenced Black on the obstruction conviction and remaining fraud conviction. It replaced his 2007 sentence of 78 months with a 42-month (3.5 year) sentence, which left Black with 13 additional months to serve.

Black served his jail time at a US federal prison in Florida from September 2011 to May 2012. Black could not return to Canada because he gave up his citizenship to join the British House of Lords in 2001. However, he was granted a temporary resident permit, which allowed him to return to his home in Toronto. Black has maintained his innocence since he was first charged.

Pardon

In May 2019, Conrad Black received a full pardon from US president Donald Trump for his 2007 convictions. In a statement, the White House cited Black’s contributions to business and his writings on politics and history. Black said that his long-time friendship and public support of the president (including the book he wrote that praised Trump) had nothing to do with the pardon.

Donald Trump

US president Donald Trump during a post-election tour stop in Hershey, Pennsylvania, 15 December 2016.

(courtesy Michael Vadon, Wikimedia)

Author and Journalist

Conrad Black has written books on the histories of Canada and the United States. He has also published biographies of Quebec premier  Maurice Duplessis and US presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other analyzes the political career of Trump.

His autobiography, A Life in Progress, was published in 1993. A Matter of Principle, in which Black describes his trial, conviction, imprisonment and appeal, was published in 2011.

Black writes columns on politics, economics and history for various news outlets, including the National Post. He is also a commentator on radio and television programs. His writings on history and politics often take right-wing stances on current issues. Other journalists have responded critically to his views on Indigenous issues and racism, in particular.

Personal Life

Conrad Black has been married twice. His first wife was Shirley Gail Walters, whom he married in 1978. They had three children. In 1992, Black married journalist Barbara Amiel.

Photo of Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel

Barbara Amiel and Conrad Black at the 2013 Canadian Film Centre Annual Gala & Auction (6 February 2013).

(courtesy Canadian Film Centre/flickr CC)

Honours

Conrad Black received the Order of Canada in 1990 for “his diverse achievements within the realms of Canadian commerce, education, literature and the arts.” In January 2014, though, he was removed from the Order of Canada and expelled from the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada due to his convictions.

In 1999, the British government offered to make Black a baron. However, Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien blocked Black’s appointment. Chrétien cited the Nickle Resolution of 1919, a policy that prevents Canadians from receiving titles of honour from foreign governments. Black gave up his Canadian citizenship to accept the title. In 2001, he was sworn into the House of Lords as Lord Black of Crossharbour. Crossharbour is the name of a London neighbourhood located near the building that houses the London Daily Telegraph.


Further Reading

  • Conrad Black, A Matter of Principle (2011).

  • Conrad Black, A Life in Progress (1993).

  • George Tombs, Robber Baron: Lord Black of Crossharbour (2007).

External Links