It’s a scenario few could even have imagined when Conrad Black was found guilty of fraud and obstruction of justice in a Chicago courtroom in 2007, one that was packed so full of International media and spectators that a second overflow room was set up in the downtown courthouse.
Not only that Black would receive a full pardon from criminal charges, as he did on Wednesday, but that the pardon would be communicated by a White House led by a former business associate, real estate tycoon Donald Trump — a bit player in the saga of Black’s fall from atop an International media empire spanning three continents.
As improbable as this scenario would have seemed, those who sat through the gruelling months-long trial certainly knew of the association between Trump and Black. Their business dealings had intersected on a real estate transaction in Chicago when one of Black’s companies, Hollinger International, sold the building that had housed the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper to Trump for a land-development deal.
Trial watchers also knew that Trump had spoken up for Black at Hollinger International’s annual shareholders meeting in 2003 in New York, where the media mogul was facing down increasingly agitated investors who were upset by large yet opaque management fees paid to Black and a few associates at a Toronto-based parent company.
Trump, who was by then already a celebrity of sorts, attended the meeting even though he did not own any Hollinger shares, Black’s trial heard from the company’s former head of investor relations Paul Healy. At the fractious meeting, Trump told the assembled investors: “I fully support the company and its management, and in particular I have great respect for Conrad Black.”
Black had emailed the real estate mogul earlier, and solicited “a rather esoteric favour” from Trump.
“If you were able to put in a cameo appearance and say a supporting word, I’m sure it would have an impact on the group and be favourably noted in the press,” Black wrote.
However, the pressure from shareholders would ultimately lead to a probe by an internal committee of directors, followed by investigations of Black’s businesses by the U.S. Securities Commission and the Department of Justice, which culminated in criminal charges of fraud and obstruction of justice against him. At the time, Hollinger owned a stable of publications including The Telegraph in London, the Chicago Sun-Times, and a chain of Canadian newspapers including the National Post, which he founded.
In the lead-up to the trial where Black and a few of his former associates were accused of creating “non-compete” agreements to improperly pay themselves millions of dollars, there was some talk that Trump would testify, but he did not.
However, the statement from the White House announcing Black’s pardon on Wednesday contains a callback to Trump’s earlier role in Black’s saga.
“Lord Black’s case has attracted broad support from many high-profile individuals who have vigorously vouched for his exceptional character,” the White House statement read.
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