May 4, 2012

Conrad Black returns home

It's not just because we share a surname — though no known family connections — that I follow from a distance the life and times of Conrad Black (Lord Black of Crossharbour, actually).

Black, as readers may recall, once was one of the world's mightiest press barons who got his start in the print trade in Quebec's Eastern Townships as proprietor of the Sherbrooke Record.

At the peak of his empire, he was owner of some 400 newspapers in Canada, the United States and around the world, including such prestigious properties as the Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom.

He also famously founded a second national newspaper in Canada, The National Post, to compete with The Globe and Mail, which he considered too bland, timid and liberal. The paper drained corporate resources, and eventually Black was forced to sell it to another media conglomerate.

The Post's woes marked the beginning of Black's epic fall from a pinnacle of wealth and power.

In 2007, a series of transactions involving Hollinger Inc., the principal holding company for Black's print assets, landed him before the courts in the United States. Without daring to attempt to explain the complex and contentious circumstances of the case against him, the upshot is Black, his empire in tatters, ended up in federal prison in Florida, where he has served off and on, through various appeals and the like, some 42 months behind bars.

Sources say his time in the slammer is expected to end today. The question remained whether Black, a convicted felon, would be allowed to return to Canada.

The wrinkle for Black is that he is no longer a Canadian citizen. In 2001, he renounced his citizenship in a spat with then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien. The British government of Tony Blair had offered Black a barony and a seat in the House of Lords. Chretien, citing a 1919 Parliamentary resolution shunning foreign titles for Canadians, barred Black from accepting the lordship.

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