Black is back.
There is little surprise that Conrad Black returned to London this week to pursue his resurrection. Black passionately wants to get back to business and restore his social status. Sentenced in Chicago in 2007 to six-and-a-half years imprisonment for fraud and obstruction of justice, Black earned early remission from a Florida jail for good conduct and returned at the beginning of this year to his only remaining home in Toronto – he previously had four. Now he yearns to resume his life in London – not least because Canadians have shown loathing for the man who churlishly gave up his Canadian citizenship to accept a British peerage, and most are outraged that a British crook should be allowed to resume life in his Toronto mansion.
Now it is up to the British to decide whether they will accept Black's return to the London stage.
During his tour of London's television studios – most notably in confrontations with Jeremy Paxman and Adam Boulton – Black spewed out a long-rehearsed monologue to dazzle his countrymen with professions of victimhood and demands for resurrection as a social giant fit to vote in the House of Lords and take tea in Buckingham Palace. In his carefully contrived redemptive plea, he spawns a tale of being the innocent victim of the US justice system.
Understandably, his carpet-bombing of TV interviewers with obscure arguments confounds the public who are ignorant about the intricacies of his trial and his subsequent appeals. The facts, however, are incontestable. Black's frauds were discovered by the shareholders of Hollinger, the owner of the Telegraph group. "You're a thief," one shareholder yelled during the company's annual meeting in 2001. Eventually, all his fellow directors realised that Black had lied to them about Hollinger's accounts and he had taken about $200m from the company. The US government prosecuted on 14 charges.
The trial was staggeringly fair. Hugely damning evidence against Black was excluded by the judge. Most remarkably, having endlessly pontificated how he intended to destroy the prosecutors, Black did not testify in his own defence. Instead he propelled his hapless secretary to testify and she was slaughtered by prosecutors.
The jury quickly found Black guilty of three counts of fraud and obstruction of justice, but then began five days of vituperative argument about whether Black's use of corporate money to pay for his honeymoon and a birthday party for his wife was criminal. On the remaining fraud and racketeering charges nine jurors believed he was crooked while three disagreed. The legacy of the blistering rows was their irreconcilable split – 9 to 3. So Black was acquitted of 10 charges.
But, as the trial judge and the subsequent appeal judges all said in open court, the evidence against Black was overwhelming. He was, the judges agreed, rightly found guilty by the jury of systematically looting Hollinger. So on appeal in Chicago his convictions were upheld.
However, with great skill, Black appealed to the supreme court. In a complicated legal argument, he persuaded the judges to change one law about the "honest services" owed by a company director to his shareholders. Technically, two of the fraud convictions became "unsafe". But the judges stated that, as Black was so patently guilty of fraud, he should return to prison even on one count of fraud for $600,000 and obstruction of justice. The judges agreed with the jury, with Hollinger's shareholders and directors, that Black was guilty of systematic fraud.
Disregarding the judges' universal condemnation, Black has arrived in London to assert his innocence. He states that since only two convictions out of 14 charges were upheld, he is really innocent. Spectators of Black's behaviour should not be surprised.
Convicted fraudsters who want to stay in business obey a single rule for their future prosperity – they always protest their innocence and seek pity as the victims of vengeful prosecutors, governments or "dark forces". The fraudster knows that the slightest admission of guilt would permanently destroy his ambition to restore his social reputation and get back into making money. His mission of reassertion is always accompanied by cursing and trivialising an unfortunate interruption in his blessed way of life – like a damning government report, bankruptcy, or a period in jail.
The eventual outcome of Black's mission to rise from the dead like Lazarus cannot be predicted. He follows in the footsteps of the most masterful practioner of resurrection – Robert Maxwell. The Bouncing Czech overcame universal damnation in 1971 for his dishonesty, and by 1985 was back at the hub of British politics and business.
Throughout his life, Black has fought his critics. First, when he stole and sold exam papers at school. Then when he bought Argus, Canada's biggest conglomerate, and was accused of mismanaging the pension fund. And more recently for his conduct during a takeover bid for an American mining company that a US judge declared to be dishonest.
After each case, Black cursed his critics as malicious and defended himself as a pillar of probity. His visit to London is just the latest in the familiar Black roadshow: "Trust Honest Conrad – the scion of respectability". The fireworks and his Wagnerian damnation of his critics is a familiar accompaniment to a tested performance.
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