Conrad Black

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The Right Honourable
 The Lord Black of Crossharbour

Assumed office 
31 October 2001

Born August 25, 1944 (1944-08-25) (age 75)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Nationality Canadian (1944-2001)
British (1999-Present)
Spouse(s) Joanna Hishon (1978–1992)
Barbara Amiel, Lady Black (1992—Present)
Children 2 sons, 1 daughter
Occupation former newspaper publisher, author, columnist, investor
Religion Roman Catholic

Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, PC (Can.), OC, KCSG (born August 25, 1944) is an expatriate Canadian historian, columnist and publisher who was for a time the third biggest newspaper magnate in the world.[1] He was convicted of fraud in a US court in 2007 and sentenced to six and a half years' imprisonment. On July 19, 2010 Black was granted bail.[2] He was released from Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida, USA two days later pending a decision by the court on whether to retry his 2008 criminal fraud conviction.[3]

Before the regulatory investigation that led to his conviction, Black controlled Hollinger International, Inc. Through affiliates, the company published major newspapers including The Daily Telegraph (UK), Chicago Sun Times (USA), Jerusalem Post (Israel), National Post (Canada), and hundreds of community newspapers in North America.

Early life and family

Conrad Black was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to a wealthy family originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba. His father, George Montegu Black, Jr., C.A., was the president of Canadian Breweries Limited, an international brewing conglomerate that had earlier absorbed Winnipeg Breweries (founded by George Black Sr.). Conrad Black's mother was the former Jean Elizabeth Riley, a daughter of Conrad Stephenson Riley, whose father founded the Great-West Life Assurance Company, and a great-granddaughter of an early co-owner of the Daily Telegraph.

Biographer George Toombs said of Black's motivations: "he was born into a very large family of athletic, handsome people. He wasn't particularly athletic or handsome like they were, so he developed a different skill - wordplay, which he practiced a lot with his father."[4]


Black was first educated at Upper Canada College (UCC), during which time, at age 8, he purchased shares in General Motors.[4] Six years later, according to Tom Bower's biography Dancing on the Edge,[5] he was expelled from UCC for selling stolen exam papers. He then attended Trinity College School where he lasted less than a year, being expelled for insubordinate behaviour. Black eventually graduated from a small, now defunct, private school in Toronto called Thornton Hall, continuing on to post-secondary education at Carleton University (History, 1965). For a time, he attended Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School of York University; however, his studies ended after he failed his first year exams.[5] He completed a law degree at Université Laval (Law, 1970), and in 1973 completed a Master of Arts degree in history at McGill University.[6] Black's thesis, later published as a biography, was on Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis.


Conrad Black's first marriage was in 1978 to Joanna Hishon of Montreal, who worked as a secretary in his brother Montegu's brokerage office. The couple had two sons and a daughter.[7] The couple separated in 1991. Their divorce was finalized in 1992; the same year Black married Watford-born journalist Barbara Amiel. Black flattered Amiel, describing her variously as "beautiful, brilliant, ideologically a robust spirit" and "chic, humorous and preternaturally sexy". Courtroom evidence revealed that the couple exchanged over 11,000 emails.[4]


"My family," Black wrote in 2009, "was divided between atheism and agnosticism, and I followed rather unthinkingly and inactively in those paths into my 20s." By his early 30s, however, he "no longer had any confidence in the non-existence of God." Thereafter, he "approached Rome at a snail's pace," and was finally received into the Catholic Church on June 18, 1986.[8]


Black became involved in a number of businesses, mainly publishing newspapers, and briefly in mining. In 1966, Black bought his first newspaper, the Eastern Townships Advertiser in Quebec. Following the foundation, as an investment vehicle, of the Ravelston Corporation by the Black family in 1969, Black, together with friends David Radler and Peter G. White, purchased and operated the Sherbrooke Record, the small English language daily in Sherbrooke, Quebec. In 1971, the three formed Sterling Newspapers Limited, a holding company that would acquire several other small Canadian regional newspapers.

Corporate ownership through holding companies

George Black died in June 1976, leaving Conrad and his older brother, Montegu, a 22.4% stake in Ravelston Corporation, which by then owned 61% voting control of Argus Corporation, an influential holding company in Canada. Argus controlled large stakes in 7 major Canadian corporations, Labrador Mining, Noranda Mines, Hollinger Mines, Standard Broadcasting, Dominion Stores, Domtar and Massey-Ferguson.[9]

Through his father's holdings in Ravelston, Conrad Black gained early association with two of Canada's most prominent businessmen: Bud McDougald and E. P. Taylor, president and founder of Argus, respectively. Following McDougald's death in 1978, Conrad Black paid $30-million to take control of Ravelston and thereby, control of Toronto-based Argus. This controversial arrangement resulted in accusations that Black had taken advantage of the aging widows of Ravelston Directors McDougald and Eric Phillips. Other observers admired Black for marshaling enough investor support to win control without committing a large block of personal assets.[9]

Some of the Argus assets were already troubled, others did not fit Black's long term vision. Black resigned as Chairman of Massey Ferguson company in 1979, after which Argus donated its shares to the employee's pension funds (both salaried and union.[10]) Hollinger Mines was then turned into a holding company that initially focused on resource businesses.[9]

In 1981 Norcen Energy, one of his companies, acquired a minority position in Ohio-based Hanna Mining Co. A filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission stated that Norcen took "an investment position" in Hanna. However, the filing failed to disclose that Norcen's board planned to seek majority control. Black subsequently was charged by the SEC with filing misleading public statements, charges that were later withdrawn by "consent decree" after Black and Norcen agreed not to break securities laws in the future.

Dominion pension dispute

In 1984, Black withdrew over $56 million from the Dominion workers' pension plan surplus without consulting plan members. The firm said it considered the surplus the rightful property of the employer (Dominion Stores Ltd.). The Dominion Union complained, a public outcry ensued, and the case went to court. The Supreme Court of Ontario eventually ruled against the company, and ordered the company to return the money to the pension fund, claiming that though the most recent language in the plan suggested the employer had ownership of the surplus, the original intention was to keep the surplus in the plan to increase members' benefits.[11] The company appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld the lower court's decision.[12]

Industrial holdings shifted to publishing

Over time, Black focused formerly diverse activities of his companies on newspaper publishing. Argus Corporation, once Canada’s most important conglomerate, divested itself of interests in manufacturing, mining, retailing, banking and broadcasting. Canadian writer John Ralston Saul argued in 2008, "Lord Black was never a real "capitalist" because he never created wealth, only dismantled wealth. His career has been largely about stripping corporations. Destroying them."[13]

Growth and divestment of press holdings

In 1985, Andrew Knight, then editor of The Economist, asked Black to invest in the ailing Telegraph Group. By this investment, Black made his first entry into British press ownership. Five years later, he bought the Jerusalem Post, and subsequently fired the majority of its staff.[14] By 1990, his companies ran over 400 newspaper titles in North America, the majority of them small community papers.

Hollinger bought a minority stake in the Southam newspaper chain in 1993 and acquired the Chicago Sun Times in 1994. Hollinger International shares were listed on New York Stock Exchange in 1996, at which time the company boosted its stake in Southam to a control position. Becoming a public company trading in the U.S. has been called "a fateful move, exposing Black's empire to America's more rigorous regulatory regime and its more aggressive institutional shareholders."[10]

Under Black, Hollinger launched the National Post in Toronto in 1998. From 1999 to 2000 Hollinger International sold several newspapers in five deals worth a total of US$679-million, a total that included millions of dollars in "non-compete agreements" for Hollinger insiders. Later in the year, Hollinger International announced the sale of thirteen major Canadian newspapers, 126 community newspapers, internet properties and half of the National Post to CanWest Global Communications Corp. Hollinger International sold the rest of the National Post to CanWest in the summer of 2001.


Born to a rich family, Black acquired the family home and 7 acres (28,000 m2) of land in Toronto's exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood after his father's death in 1976. Black and first wife Joanna Hishon maintained homes in Palm Beach, Toronto and London. After he married Barbara Amiel, he acquired a luxury Park Avenue apartment in New York. When sold in 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice seized net proceeds of $8.5 million, pending resolution of court actions.[15] His London townhouse in the Kensington district sold in 2005 for about US$25 million.[16] Black's Palm Beach mansion was listed for sale in 2004 at $36 million.[17]

According to biographer Tom Bower, "They flaunted their wealth."[5] Black's critics, including former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, suggested it was Black's second wife, Amiel, who pushed him towards a life of opulence, citing extravagant expenditures such as items billed to Hollinger expenses that included $2,463 (£1,272) on handbags, $2,785 in opera tickets, and $140 for Amiel's "jogging attire."[4]

Black was ranked 238th wealthiest in Britain by the Sunday Times Rich List 2003,[18] with an estimated wealth of £136m. He was dropped from the 2004 list.[19]

Criminal fraud conviction and Supreme Court Review

Black was convicted in Illinois U.S. District Court on 13 July 2007 and sentenced to serve 78 months in federal prison, pay Hollinger $6.1 million and a fine of $125,000.

Black was found guilty of diverting funds for personal benefit from money due Hollinger International when the company sold certain publishing assets and other irregularities. For example, in 2000, in an illegal and surreptitious arrangement that came to be known as the "Lerner Exchange," Black acquired Chicago's Lerner Newspapers and sold it to Hollinger.[20] He also obstructed justice by taking possession of documents to which he was not entitled.[21] The case is still under appeal.

The Supreme Court of the United States heard an appeal of his case on 8 December 2009[22] and rendered a decision in June 2010. Black's application for bail was rejected by both the Supreme Court and the US District Court judge who sentenced him.[23]

On June 24, 2010, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the definition of "honest services" fraud used in the trial judge's charge to the jury in Black's case was too broad and ordered the Illinois appeal court to review three fraud convictions against Black in light of the Supreme Court's new definition. The appeal court will review Black's case and determine whether his fraud convictions will stand or if there should be a new trial.[24] The jailed former media baron's obstruction of justice conviction, for which he is serving a concurrent 6 ½ year sentence, remains in place.[25] Black's lawyers filed an application for bail pending the appeal court's review.[24] Prosecutors contested Black’s bail request arguing in court papers that Black’s trial jury had proof that Black committed fraud.[26] He was granted bail on July 19, 2010 by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and will be released on a $2 million unsecured bond put up by conservative philanthropist Roger Hertog.[27] Black has been released from custody and has ordered to remain in the continental United States for now pending a ruling by Judge St. Eve on whether his bail conditions will permit him to return to Canada until he is required to attend court.[28][27][2][29]

Until July 21, 2010,[27] Black, Federal Bureau of Prisons #18330-424, was incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution Low, Coleman,[30] a part of the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex[31][32] Prior to being granted bail, his scheduled release date was October 30, 2013.[30]

IRS action against Black

In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service initiated a legal proceding in the United States Tax Court against Black for $71 million in back taxes which it claims is owed on $120 million in unreported income between 1998 and 2003. Black is challenging the claim, arguing that he is not subject to US taxing authority[26] claiming that he was, “neither a citizen nor a resident of the United States” and was not obliged to pay taxes in the U.S.[33]

Peerage controversy and citizenship

Main article: Black v. Chrétien

Upon the advice of British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth II was to honour Black by raising him to the peerage. However, Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, gave the conflicting advice that a Canadian citizen should not receive a titular honour, citing the 1919 Nickle Resolution.

Books and other publications

Black has written an autobiography and three substantial biographies of controversial twentieth-century figures. In each he casts his hero as a man of incorrigible intellectual strength buttressed and not weakened by partisan attack and personal malady. His revisionist works rescue Duplessis and Nixon from their status as moral pariahs, and portrays Roosevelt as an centrist who saved capitalism. Black writes in a highly erudite, if idiosyncratic, manner. His purple style and pointed criticism have been the subject of much derision in reviews, though his factual rigour is beyond dispute.

  • Duplessis[34]: Black re-worked his 1973 Master's thesis on Maurice Duplessis into a rehabilatory biographical re-examination of the controversial long-serving Quebec premier, published in 1977.
  • A Life in Progress[35]: An autobiography, published in 1993.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom[36]: While Black was CEO of Hollinger International, the company spent millions of dollars purchasing collections of private papers of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[37] Black subsequently completed a 1,280-page biography, in 2003.[38]
  • What Might Have Been[39]: A 2004 essay of speculative history depicting the latter half of the 20th century as it may have unfolded had Japan not bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, edited by Andrew Roberts.
  • Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full[40]: Continuing in the vein of Duplessis, Black's 1,152-page 2007 biography of Richard Nixon sought to rehabilitate the former U.S. President's legacy. This approach was criticized by some reviewers, who felt that it attempted to exculpate Nixon of some negative aspects of his time in office.[41]
  • Black continues to contribute regular features to the National Post, the newspaper he founded in 1998 and sold in 2001. In an article there, Black indicated that his next book will describe how his business empire was destroyed while court-protected managers enriched themselves and eradicated shareholder value. He says, "The judiciary and regulators in both countries are complicit in these events. They will have much to answer for. This is the real story, and I will publish it soon." [42]
  • In the November 2008 issue of Spear's magazine, Black wrote a diary piece from jail,[43] detailing 'the putrification of the US justice system' and how 'the bloom is off my long-notorious affection for America'.
  • On March 5, 2009, Black contributed a piece to the online version of the conservative magazine National Review (NRO). Called 'Roosevelt and the Revisionists' and based on his earlier biography of Roosevelt, it argued that FDR's New Deal was intended to save capitalism, and so deserved conservative support. In her March 9 critique of this piece on NRO, author Amity Shlaes observed, "I will be co-hosting, with Dean Thomas Cooley of NYU/Stern, a Second Look conference on March 30 to permit scholars to present the multiple studies that suggest the New Deal and Great Depression are worth taking a look at from every angle. The great shame here is that Conrad would have added much to this event, and yet he cannot attend."

Biographies and portrayal in popular culture

  • The documentary film Citizen Black, which premiered at the 2004 Montreal and Cambridge film festivals, traces Black's life and filmmaker Debbie Melnyk's attempts in 2003 to interview Black, and her eventual interview.[44] US prosecutors subpoenaed unused footage of a 2003 shareholders meeting for use in Black's trial.[45]
  • Canadian actor Albert Schultz portrayed Black in the 2006 CTV movie Shades of Black.
  • Tom Bower's biography Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge (ISBN 0007232349) was published in 2006 by Harper Collins. It was republished in August 2007 with an additional chapter reporting on the trial and its outcomes.
  • There is talk of two dramas based on his life: one from Tom Bower and Andrew Lloyd Webber and another from Alistair Beaton.[46]
  • The last authorized portrait busts of Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel were created between 2001–2002 by Canadian sculptor Dr. Elizabeth Bradford Holbrook and arranged by noted Canadian artist Christian Cardell Corbet who himself also created a portrait of Black.
  • A book "Robber Baron: Lord Black of Crossharbour" was published in 2007 by ECW press and written by George Tombs. ISBN 978-1-55022-806-9
  • The IT Crowd, a Channel 4 British sitcom, series 3 episode 1 originally aired 21 November 2008 references Conrad Black as "The first rich man to go to jail in 300 years."


  1. BBC News "Conrad Black: Where did it all go wrong" February 27, 2004
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Conrad Black granted bail", Toronto Star, July 19, 2010
  3. "Conrad Black out of jail", Toronto Star, July 21, 2010
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Clark, Andrew: "At some level, he's still asking the same question as he was when he was seven or eight - who am I?" The Guardian, March 16, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Bower, Tom: Conrad & Lady Black - Dancing on the Edge (London: HarperPress, 2006),
  6. CBC News: "Conrad Black: Timeline" Updated June 5, 2008
  8. Black, Conrad. "How I woke up from spiritual slumber and inched at a snail's pace to Rome", The Catholic Herald, 11 September 2009.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Francis, D. (1986). Controlling Interest - Who Owns Canada. Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0-7715-9744-4.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Olive, David "A Conrad Black timeline", Toronto Star, March 11, 2007. Retrieved June 9, 2008.
  11. Canadian Labour Congress: Dominion Food Stores. Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  12. Randall, Jeff; BBC Money Programme: Nine News: ''The Rise and Fall of Citizen Black; November 21, 2004. (2010-03-07). Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  13. Gessell, Paul "Saul's Ottawa 'Truths'" The Ottawa Citizen, September 18, 2008
  14. Hollinger Hell: Jerusalem Post Suit Filed Here. (2005-09-18). Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  15. U.S.D.O.J. "Press Release" December 15, 2005
  16. Timmons, Heather: "Conrad Black sells London townhouse" International Herald Tribune, May 20, 2005
  17. CBC News: "Conrad Black charged . . . " November 17, 2005
  18. The Sunday Times Rich List 2003. Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  19. The Sunday Times Rich List 2004. Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  20. Hollinger International Inc - 8-K - EX-99.2. SEC Info (2004-08-30). Retrieved on 2008-11-17.
  21. BBC News Business: "Conrad Black convicted of fraud" July 13, 2007
  22. McQuillen, William. "Conrad Black: Conviction Questioned by High Court",, December 8, 2009.
  23. "Conrad Black denied bail", Toronto Star, July 15, 2009.
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Conrad Black seeks bail", Globe and Mail, July 7, 2010
  25. Conrad Black Fraud Convictions Set Aside
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Conrad Black sued for $71 million in back taxes", Toronto Star, July 15, 2010
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 "Black to be released but can’t come to Canada", Toronto Star, July 21, 2010
  28. "Court clears Black for release", Globe and Mail, July 22, 2010
  29. "Black can't return to Canada yet", Globe and Mail, July 23, 2010
  30. 30.0 30.1 "Conrad Black." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on January 6, 2010.
  31. Agence France-Presse January 26, 2009 (2009-01-26). "Eight injured in riot at Conrad Black's Prison" Agence France-Presse, January 9, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  32. Joyce, Julian. "Black times ahead for fallen peer." BBC. Tuesday March 4, 2008. Retrieved on January 6, 2010.
  33. "IRS writes up $70-million tax bill for Conrad Black", Globe and Mail, July 15, 2010
  34. ISBN 0-7710-1530-5
  35. ISBN 9781550135206
  36. ISBN 978-1586481841
  37. [click here]. Fine Books & Collections Magazine. Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  38. The Lord of Springwood. New York Times (2003-12-21). Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  39. ISBN 978-0753818732
  40. ISBN 978-1586485191
  41. ''Books Briefly Noted'', New Yorker: 10 November 2007. (2009-01-07). Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  43. Black, Conrad. "Jail Diary", Spear's, November 2008.
  44. DeWolf Smith, Nancy; ''The Wall Street Journal: ''"Citizen Black": An entertaining documentary''; February 17, 2006. (2006-02-17). Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  45. Wisniewski, Mary; ''Chicago Sun Times'': Prosecutors to see 'Citizen Black' footage; November 23, 2006. (2006-11-23). Retrieved on 2010-06-18.
  46. "Pendennis: Oliver Marre". The Guardian (London).,,2180308,00.html. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 

External links