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Sunday 19 June 2011

Vindictive prosecutors put Black to the sword

Conrad Black continues to protest his innocence as he appears for resentencing, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I WROTE the first of 34 articles about Conrad Black and his tribulations with the American legal system in March 2007, and hope that I'm now writing my last. Barring last-minute adjournments, this Friday he will either be on his way to freedom or back to jail.

Assiduous students of the Black saga will remember that there were 14 charges against Black, and he was alleged to have stolen $60m (e42m) from his company. Ultimately he was found guilty of three fraud charges amounting to about $3m (22.1m) as well as one of obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to 78 months, of which he had served 29 before being released on bail last July pending a judgement of the Supreme Court. Since then, two of the fraud convictions have been overturned.

So on June 24 he will appear in front of Judge Amy St Eve (who conducted the original trial) for resentencing. Black continues vigorously to protest his innocence but accepts that his fate is now in her hands: there is no other court of appeal. His supporters hope she will show compassion, not least because Black served his time with grace and diligence, but the prosecutors are a vindictive bunch. They say he should be punished further because of his defiance and lack of remorse. But as Black reasonably said last week: "I have said at every stage I am not guilty. I think I should not be penalised for refusing to show remorse for what I strenuously claim I did not do."

Until now, in all reports of Black's time in jail, it was generally agreed that he had been a model prisoner who took great pleasure in helping the educationally disadvantaged, but the prosecutors are seeking to prove otherwise. Affidavits sworn by two members of the staff at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex accuse him variously of being "haughty", uninterested in those he tutored and having had a retinue of inmates whom he treated like servants.

"Even if he tried," observed a friend who visited him in prison, "Conrad would have difficulty appearing humble, but in the prison meeting place, he was obviously well-liked and affable." He is, too, exceptionally courteous. What's more, in many impassioned attacks on the way in which the dreadful US prison system incarcerates illiterates and druggies, Black showed how much his experiences in jail had made him understand and sympathise with the sufferings of a despised and forgotten underclass.

The affidavits "are lies", Black has said, "extorted by the prosecutors from susceptible Bureau of Prisons' officials, at variance with evidence from the same and similar sources provided to the Probation Office". Or as one of his lawyers put it colourfully, these accusations are "a drive-by disparagement of Black which reveals nothing but the intensity of the government's dislike for him".

That dislike is certainly reciprocated. Apart from his understandable loathing of the forces of the law who ruined his company and sought to destroy his life, Black is contemptuous of what he sees as the innumerable failings of successive US administrations. He condemns presidents from Richard Nixon onwards for failing to make the country self-sufficient in energy, which would bring down oil and gas prices and "reduce the money available for the Iranians, Saudis, Venezuelans and others to finance terrorism around the world" and thus reduce US defence costs.

He has denounced Bill Clinton and George W Bush for encouraging a housing bubble "that almost capsized the world economic system and reduced the entire banking system of most countries to a ragged, shivering, Oliver Twist holding out a begging bowl to empty-pocketed national treasurers". And he regards President Barack Obama as a fiscal incontinent who has dodged the challenge of deficit reduction and thereby set in motion "the approaching tornado of stagflation".

Even if he's put back into captivity, Black will continue to write his polemics. If freed, he will go home to Canada. He will not, he says, hold a grudge against the US, which he once loved, "even though it is a country that has persecuted me half to death". His book about the case, however, is guaranteed to cause ructions.

Although we exchanged many emails in the past few years, I've never met Black. "I had a splendid lunch with Conrad," said an email from a friend who shares his devotion to Cardinal Newman. "A wonderful conversationalist. He sang your praises but agrees with me that we must do what we can to make you see sense about your Creator's personal love for you."

Conrad Black is a remarkable man, and I fervently hope he goes free, but if he thinks he can get me back to Holy Mother Church he'd better think again. I'd rather be in jail.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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