Conrad Black says he has been vindicated after receiving a pardon from Donald Trump, but the man who prosecuted him says the pardon marks “another sad chapter in the demise of justice in the United States under President Trump.”
The former media baron told The Canadian Press in an interview that the pardon, issued by his long-time friend and one-time business associate, amounts to complete exoneration. "This completes the destruction of the spurious prosecution of me,” Mr. Black said. “It’s a complete final decision of not guilty. That is finally a fully just verdict.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a pardon is an expression of the president’s forgiveness, and is usually granted when an offender has accepted responsibility for the crime and established good behaviour. “It does not signify innocence,” the DOJ website says. For Mr. Black, one impact is that he is free to travel to the United States.
Eric Sussman, the former U.S. prosecutor who led the criminal trial against Mr. Black, said he is not surprised that the President granted executive clemency. "Getting a pardon in the United States these days simply means you are a celebrity with access to the President,” he told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail. “Lying and obstructing justice are celebrated, not punished in this administration.”
Mr. Sussman, now a partner at Reed Smith LLP in Chicago, spearheaded the four-month trial in 2007 against Mr. Black, who was charged with multiple counts of fraud for his business practices at newspaper publisher Hollinger International Inc.
“Conrad Black was found to be a liar and a thief by 12 jurors," Mr. Sussman said. "That will always be Mr. Black’s legacy.”
Mr. Black responded to Mr. Sussman’s characterization in an e-mail to The Globe: “There was no finding of lying and the theft was the receipt of $285K that was approved by the independent directors and published in the company’s filings."
Mr. Black added that prosecutors in the United States are “killing justice” by abusing the plea-bargain system. In response to a question about his attempts to reacquire his status as a Canadian citizen, Mr. Black said, “Nothing has happened on my citizenship.” (Mr. Black, 74, renounced his citizenship to become a British lord in 2001.)
The White House issued a statement Wednesday hailing Mr. Black’s business career and his biographies of presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon as accomplishments deserving of a pardon. “An entrepreneur and scholar, Lord Black has made tremendous contributions to business, as well as to political and historical thought,” according to the statement.
More than a decade ago, Mr. Black and other former Hollinger executives were accused by U.S. authorities of diverting millions of dollars from the company through non-compete agreements and bonus compensation. Mr. Black was found guilty in 2007 on three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction. Two fraud charges were later overturned on appeal. He spent just more than three years in prison and tutored the other inmates at the federal correctional facility in Florida − which the White House also highlighted in its statement. Mr. Black returned to Toronto after his release in 2012.
Mr. Black received the longest sentence of his three Hollinger co-defendants. Richard A. Greenberg, a lawyer who represented former Hollinger executive John Boultbee at trial, said the pardon for Mr. Black is “well-deserved.”
“I would only say that Mr. Boultbee is entitled to the same kind of relief, even more so," he added. (Mr. Greenberg said he had not yet been in touch with his former client.)
Mr. Black has been a vocal defender of the U.S. President. Last year, he published a biography titled, Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other. “Donald Trump accomplished more before he was president than had any prior president of the United States except Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Grant and Eisenhower. His exterior is uneven, but his history is one of astounding accomplishment,” Mr. Black wrote.
He also argued that Mr. Trump has a strong case for re-election next year in an article for the National Review earlier this month.
Mr. Black, in a column Wednesday in the National Post, said Mr. Trump told him in a phone call that the pardon would “expunge the bad rap you got” and was not issued because of “any of the supportive things you’ve said and written about me.”
Steven Skurka, a Toronto criminal-defence lawyer who wrote a book about the trial, said that none of Mr. Black’s accomplishments “merit singling him out from the thousands of people who apply for pardons.”
He continued: “The one thing that does, is that it was an unjust verdict in my view.” Mr. Skurka argued that the payments Mr. Black was accused of diverting were approved by Hollinger’s audit committee, and therefore were not fraudulent. “Once there’s disclosure, there isn’t fraud," he said.
With files from Paul Waldie in London