New Bio: Conrad Black’s Old Pals Kicking Him While He’s Down

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By: E&P Staff

Wealthy friends Conrad Black made as an international newspaper mogul are freezing him out now that he faces civil and criminal charges that he massively looted that one-time empire, according to an unauthorized biography of Conrad Black excerpted this weekend in The Sunday Times in London.

In one stinging anectdote in the book “Conrad and Lady Black,” author Tom Bower tells of an unnamed “billionaire” in New York City who was said to have been asked by Black if he could gather of group of similarly wealthy figures for substantial loans secured by Black’s properties.

According to Bower, this is how the dialogue went:

“How much do you want from everyone, Conrad?” asked the businessman.

“About $1m each,” said Black.

There was a pause. “You’re my best friend,” continued Black. “Surely you can lend me $1m?”

“Well, Conrad,” said the man, “what’s my private telephone number?”

“I don’t know,” replied Black. “Why?”

“Well, if I were your best friend, you’d have it.”

Bower writes that these supposed friends “were disdainful of a man famous for his excesses and the collapse of his empire rather than for his achievements.”

Bower portrays a man who was schooled in the ways of corporate deceit by a bitter, and often inebritated father.

As a boy, the book claims, Black’s father, a successful Canadian brewery executive, showed the future mogul the high life of Caribbean vacations, butlers and chauffeurs. George Black “became preoccupied with creating an extraordinary individual out of Conrad,” who had an exceptional ability to memorize facts.

At first, George Black counseled young Conrad in the art of cutting costs and strengthening the bottom line. When he was fired in the wake of an acrimonious strike, though, the father used the all-night sessions to nurture a mission of revenge.

“There would be many bitter lectures over the years on history, power and finance which inculcated in Conrad the importance of supremacy and manipulation,” Bower writes.

Black faces a criminal trial in federal court in Chicago next March on charges he looted $87 million from Hollinger International, the newspaper publishing company he once headed that is now known as Sun-Times Media Group. Black and other executives have pleaded not guilty, and Black has frequently said he expects to be exonerated completely at trial.

Bower writes that Black “keenly anticipated the stardom that he would achieve at his trial,” which would be “spectacular.’

The excerpt also quotes at length from an e-mail in which Black says he expected Bower’s book to be a hatchet job.

When friends ask him and his wife Barbara Amiel Black whether they should cooperate with Bower in the biography, Black says in the e-mail to the author: “Our usual response is that you have made it clear that you consider this whole matter a heart-warming story of two sleazy, spivvy, contemptible people, who enjoyed a fraudulent and unjust elevation; were exposed, and ground to powder in a just system; have been ostracized, and largely impoverished; and that I am on my way to the prison cell where I belong.”

Bower himself limns Black’s life not as “the familiar tale of a tycoon’s rise and fall … Rather, it is the drama of a plutocrat who stands accused as a kleptocrat. The riddle is just how he has found himself in this position.”

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