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Sunday 20 May 2007

Lies, damned lies — and the trial of Conrad Black

BEFORE his trial began in Chicago, Conrad Black wrote: "Barbara and I go now to try these issues at the bar of Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow, in the city that I have long regarded as the great, brave heart of America.

"We have survived the 'shock and awe' campaign of intimidation, defamation and asset seizures. We built a great company that our accusers have destroyed to their own profit, as they have been sumptuously paid to obliterate over a billion dollars of shareholder market value. We acted lawfully and are not afraid."

You can see why his defence lawyers are dithering about whether they should put him on the stand. Would the largely female, blue-collar jury understand what the hell he was talking about?

And if so, would they admire his courage and self-belief or loathe his arrogance? Well, these guys are being paid plenty. It's their call.

Last week revolved around David Radler - Black's partner for more than 30 years - who has done a deal with the prosecution that lets him off very lightly in exchange for being their chief witness.

I've read the apparently objective reports, the reports from Black's enemies and the reports from Black's friends, and was particularly taken by what was produced by Susan Berger, a Chicago freelancer, who attends court every day and covers it in her blog (www.blacksjustice.com).

Although she once worked for a chain of local newspapers owned by the Black/Radler empire, she did not know the Blacks, but she is distinctly underwhelmed by most of the prosecution witnesses. Radler, she concluded, "is truly a liar".

The Black case is that if any crimes were committed, they were committed by Radler. Last week, the main issue was whether Radler had been lying in the past when he toldinvestigators he and Black had committed no crimes, or whether he was lying now when, on the witness stand, he says they did. He was certainly evasive.

Here is Berger's sample of his answers to difficult questions: "Sir, I would have to look [at the document]"; "There's more to it"; "I'm not going to say no because it's something I believed in"; "I can't answer because there is no leeway to explain it"; "I would rather explain, and I don't think you'd be unhappy [if I did]"; "I can't answer, I don't know the time period"; "I can't answer because you won't let me verbalise it"; "I cannot answer yes or no, your honour"; "That's too broad a question, sir"; "I said that but it was out of context".

Berger was "waiting for someone to ask Radler 'What is your name?' and he would answer 'I need to check with my mother'."

Radler had plenty of reason to be evasive. If the judge concludes he's lying now, she can overturn his "sweetheart deal" with the prosecutors.

Lest you feel I'm failing to give you the substance of what emerged, Mark Steyn's game attempt tells you what you need to know.

"Mr Radler told the truth to the US Attorney's office when he said he lied to the SEC [the US Securities and Exchange Commission] about telling the truth to the Special Committee about whether he'd lied to the Audit Committee about telling the truth about the non-competes.

"As to whether he lied to the court in Chicago by claiming to have told the truth to the court in British Columbia about whether he'd lied to Conrad Black by not telling him the truth about Todd Vogt, he was in fact telling the truth when he said the lie he told had been approved by his lawyer, whom he had no reason to believe was lying.

"On the matter of whether he lied to the court this week about claiming to have told the truth last week about not having reviewed the transcripts of earlier lies from 2003 to 2005, he was telling the truth when he said he would need to review the transcripts of last week's lies before he could ascertain whether he was telling the truth about the transcripts of his previous lies."

Imagine what it's like being on the jury??

On balance it was a good week for Black and an even better one for one of his three co-defendants, a poor devil called Mark Kipnis, Hollinger International's in-house lawyer, prosecuted on the grounds that he was given a $150,000 bonus for facilitating an alleged $60m crime.

Radler not only testified that Kipnis's modest bonus was for hard work on uncontentious matters, but that he had told the government investigators so.

So why was Kipnis prosecuted?

"The game is won, I'm on an inexorable march to victory," Black told The Guardian yesterday. "This still has its scary moments. But I see the trend. My strategy is working."

Rumours that his lawyer had persuaded him to keep his mouth shut in public have clearly been greatly exaggerated.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards