A Matter of Principle - Encounter Books

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A Matter of Principle

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Publication Details

Paperback/ 620 pages
ISBN: 1594036594
AVAILABLE: 9/11/2012

A Matter of Principle

“I never ask for mercy and seek no one’s sympathy. I would never, as was once needlessly feared in this court, be a fugitive from justice in this country, only a seeker of it.” — Conrad Black, in his statement to the court, June 24, 2011

In 1993, Conrad Black was the proprietor of London’s Daily Telegraph and the head of one of the world’s largest newspaper groups. He completed a memoir in 1992, A Life in Progress, and “great prospects beckoned.” In 2004, he was fired as chairman of Hollinger International after he and his associates were accused of fraud. Here, for the first time, Black describes his indictment, four-month trial in Chicago, partial conviction, imprisonment, and largely successful appeal.

In this unflinchingly revealing and superbly written memoir, Black writes without reserve about the prosecutors who mounted a campaign to destroy him and the journalists who presumed he was guilty. Fascinating people fill these pages, from prime ministers and presidents to the social, legal, and media elite, among them: Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Jean Chrétien, Rupert Murdoch, Izzy Asper, Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz, Eddie Greenspan, Alan Dershowitz, and Henry Kissinger.

Woven throughout are Black’s views on big themes: politics, corporate governance, and the U.S. justice system. He is candid about highly personal subjects, including his friendships – with those who have supported and those who have betrayed him – his Roman Catholic faith, and his marriage to Barbara Amiel. And he writes about his complex relations with Canada, Great Britain, and the United States, and in particular the blow he has suffered at the hands of that nation.

In this extraordinary book, Black maintains his innocence and recounts what he describes as “the fight of and for my life.” A Matter of Principle is a riveting memoir and a scathing account of a flawed justice system.

About the Author

Conrad Black is the author of critically acclaimed biographies of Maurice Duplessis, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon. The former head of the Argus and Hollinger corporate groups and of London’s Telegraph newspapers, Black is also the founder of Canada’s National Post.

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I sleep in a cubicle that shares a ceiling with sixty other identical spaces, rather like partitions in an office, except that these are painted cinder block and there are no potted plants.

At 10:30 p.m., the ceiling lights placed every twenty feet or so go out. The residents turn out their cubicle lights, leaving only an overhead row of red, dimly lit panels, pierced here and there by the beam of portable reading lamps, which enable the readers among us to escape into books, letters, newspapers, snapshots, and tokens and reminders of the world beyond the gates. In the morning, daylight creeps past the condensation generated by the confrontation between the Florida heat and the fierce air conditioning of the Federal Bureau of Prisons into the outside cubicles through narrow rectangular windows grudgingly set in the concrete walls.

Here, we concern ourselves with how many postage stamps (the local currency) are needed to buy an extra notepad. We see and hear the talking heads on television in the activities room or, in my case, read in the newspapers of the steady failures or crises of great institutions: AIG, General Motors, Citigroup, the State of California, the New York Times, the Harvard University Endowment. How could this country have become so incompetent, so stupid, and why was this debacle so unforeseen? The pundits have the usual uninformed answers, not greatly more well thought out, and less entertaining, than those of some of my fellow residents. Lying in my bunk after the lights have gone out, I reflect on the ludicrous demise of my great love affair with America.

Bemused by the economic and political shambles, created largely by people I have known, I fight on from this absurdly shrunken perimeter for recovery of my liberty, reputation, and fortune. I still expect to win. My prison number, 18330-424, is stamped on my clothes and mandatory on all correspondence. I am sixty-five years old. I entered these walls a baron of the United Kingdom, Knight of the Holy See, Privy Councillor, and Officer of the Order of Canada, former publisher of some of the world’s greatest newspapers, and author of some well-received non-fiction books. In December 2007, a courteous federal district judge in Chicago sentenced me to seventy-eight months in a federal prison and imposed a financial penalty of $6.2 million. This is all winding its way through final appeals and is completely unjust, but so are many things. I was convicted of three counts of fraud and one of obstruction of justice, of all of which I am innocent. Three charges were dropped and nine led to acquittals. I have gone through but survived straitened financial circumstances, have sold two of my homes, and am responding to and initiating endless civil litigation. For the last six and a half years I have been fighting for my financial life, physical freedom, and what remains of my reputation against the most powerful organization in the world, the U.S. government.

My shrunken newspaper company, once owner of distinguished titles in Britain, Canada, Australia, and America, as well as the Jerusalem Post, was now bankrupt under the dead weight of the incompetence and corruption of my enemies, who have hugely enriched themselves under the patronage of American and Canadian courts of law and equity. I am estranged from some of my formerly professed friends, including a number of famous people, though in greater solidarity than ever with some others. Much of the press of the Western world was long agog with jubilant stories about the collapse of my standing and influence. For years I was widely reviled, defamed, and routinely referred to as “disgraced” or “shamed” and “convicted fraudster.” (This was the preferred formulation of the London Daily Telegraph, of which I was chairman for fifteen years.) In light of my lately improving fortunes most of my less rabid critics are now hedging their bets. Whatever happens, this will not be the end of my modest story. But it seems an appropriate moment to update it.

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