Conrad Black is vowing to continue his "war" against U.S. prosecutors as he enjoys his new-found freedom, but some of his old opponents are showing no signs of backing down either.
"I'm happy to be here ... it's a war and war goes on," Lord Black said on Thursday in a brief interview from his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. "The U.S. government declared war on me and I have to persevere."
Lord Black sounded upbeat during his first full day of freedom since being released on bail from a Florida prison on Wednesday afternoon. "I'm enjoying my new surroundings," he said, adding his preference is to return to Toronto. "I'd like to go back. Toronto's nice this time of year."
Whether Lord Black will be able to return to Toronto should become clearer on Friday in Chicago during a hearing before federal judge Amy St. Eve, who has ordered Lord Black to remain in the United States on a $2-million (U.S.) bond, posted by a friend, while she reviews his financial and immigration status.
Judge St. Eve is expected to outline all of Lord Black's bail conditions to him in Friday's hearing, including whether he can travel to Toronto. Lord Black's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, pushed for that during a hearing before Judge St. Eve on Wednesday, calling Toronto "Lord Black's home."
But even as Lord Black vows to persevere in his battle to reverse convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice, others are gearing up as well.
Hollinger Inc., the Toronto-based newspaper company he once controlled, is still after him and others for more than $700-million. Hollinger filed for creditor protection three years ago and most of its assets have been sold off. It is suing Lord Black and others, alleging they stripped the company of its newspapers in the 1990s and moved them to a subsidiary in Chicago called Hollinger International Inc., which Lord Black also once controlled.
"The litigation process has been progressing, and will continue to progress," said William Aziz, chief restructuring officer for Hollinger Inc. He added the company has a "litigation trustee" who is "trying to recover from Black et al in respect of the damages they have caused to Hollinger Inc. and its stakeholders."
Lord Black has vigorously denied the allegations and filed counterclaims.
Then there is the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which sued Lord Black in 2004, three years before his criminal trial. The SEC alleges Lord Black and other former company executives filed "materially false and misleading" public documents because they did not disclose millions of dollars of private payments to executives by Hollinger International, some of them without approval from the company's board of directors.
The commission has been pursuing its case in a Chicago court, and last year it won orders prohibiting Lord Black from serving as an officer or director of a public company and directing him to return nearly $4-million in alleged improper payments.
However, both orders and the SEC case overall are on hold pending a final resolution of Lord Black's criminal case. Lord Black's lawyers have argued if his convictions are overturned, the SEC's case would weaken substantially. The next hearing is slated for December. An SEC spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.
Finally, Lord Black is now up against the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. In January, the IRS sent a stack of "Notice of Deficiency" statements to Lord Black in his Florida prison cell. Each notice provided a long list of alleged unpaid taxes, signed with a cheery, "Thank you for your co-operation."
In total, the IRS is demanding about $70-million in taxes and penalties on $116-million in income Lord Black earned between 1998 and 2003 from Hollinger International. Much of the money relates to taxable benefits, such as use of a New York apartment and company jet, that Lord Black allegedly failed to report. Two other former Hollinger executives - David Radler and Peter Atkinson - received similar notices.
Lord Black and the others are fighting the notices in court, claiming they were not citizens or residents of the United States and did not have to pay tax in that country.
After Friday, Lord Black's next big court appearance will be before Judge Richard Posner, a stalwart of the regional appeal court who sharply rejected appeals by Lord Black and other defendants in 2008. Judge Posner, famous for quick decisions and clear writing, tore apart many of Lord Black's arguments, calling some "ridiculous."
"The defendants' unauthorized appropriation of $5.5-million belonging to a subsidiary of Hollinger was a misuse of their positions in Hollinger for private gain," wrote Judge Posner, who works from the same building as Judge St. Eve does.
At the time, Lord Black remarked Judge Posner and the two other judges on appeal panel "had little understanding of the case." The comment sparked criticism at the time. But now that the U.S. Supreme Court has reshaped a key theory used to convict Lord Black and questioned much of Judge Posner's ruling, Lord Black may yet be proven right.
Judge Posner may have already tipped his hand slightly. He granted Lord Black's request for bail while he and the two other judges review the case in light of the Supreme Court ruling.Report Typo/Error