The downfall of Conrad Black

The jury, however, decided that Lord Black's sense of his own nobility did not give him the right to confiscate money from commoners who invested with him.

Conrad Black - persona non grata

His legendary smugness shattered by a jury of 12 ordinary Americans, Conrad Black gave them a venomous stare as their findings of guilt on four of the 13 counts against him were read to the court. Convicted on three counts of mail fraud and the more serious charge of obstruction of justice, Black faces a maximum of 35 years in prison, $1 million in penalties, and the forfeiture of millions of dollars in assets. Barring successful appeals on the charges, Black is going to jail.
His co-defendants – Jack Boultbee, Peter Atkinson and Mark Kipnis – were also found guilty of complicity in taking so-called noncompete payments from shareholders to whom the money belonged.
While the case now moves on to forfeiture hearings to determine how much Black and the others will be required to pay back to those they defrauded, to sentencing and possible appeals, business journalists, academics and corporate lawyers will no doubt have a lot to say about the case. Early commentary suggests that Americans and Canadians will bring far different perspectives to the convictions.
For Americans, it is just the latest attempt by the state to restore investor confidence in the stock markets that underpin the U.S. economy after the beating they took in the wake of the scandals at Enron, WorldCom and Tyco.
As one U.S. observer put it, "We've gone through a period where there was not a great deal of government enforcement in white-collar cases. And recently we've seen a great deal more concern by the Department of Justice about white-collar and corporate fraud cases."
For Canadians, however, Black's conviction represents the latest, if not the last, chapter in a saga of a larger-than-life figure who held the country of his birth in contempt. Some will keep searching for reasons why someone who was so rich and powerful would feel the need to pilfer money from minority shareholders in the company he ran. Others will wonder why he even took the chance. On both scores, many will likely blame moral vacuity and plain old greed for Black's descent from international newspaper baron to white-collar criminal.
But underlying almost any explanation for Black's crossing of the criminal line is the tragic character flaw that has been reflected in so much of what he said and did. Black showed an enormous propensity for hubris, the same trait that doomed Macbeth. The biblical proverb "pride goeth before a fall" suggests Black's fate was likewise sealed.
Black's arrogance was reflected in his sesquipedalian language, the contempt in which he held so many people, his lavish lifestyle, and the willing surrender of his Canadian citizenship for a British title. But his downfall ultimately came from his misguided belief that he was entitled to the payments for not competing with newspapers Hollinger International sold off because he saw the widely held public company as nothing more than an extension of himself.
While Black's hubris prevented him from seeing the character trait in himself, ironically, he readily saw it in others, as when he said that he "always felt it was the compulsive element in Napoleon that drew him into greater and greater undertakings, until he was bound to fail."
His own hubris was certainly evident in a 2002 email on the use of corporate aircraft, in which he said, "I'm not prepared to re-enact the French Revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility."
The jury, however, decided that Lord Black's sense of his own nobility did not give him the right to confiscate money from commoners who invested with him.

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