Magazine article The Spectator

It Is Now Up to Lord Black to Prove His Innocence to the Rest of the World

Magazine article The Spectator

It Is Now Up to Lord Black to Prove His Innocence to the Rest of the World

Article excerpt

The excesses of Lord Black, former proprietor of the Telegraph Group, which owns this magazine, are mind-boggling. Of course they have not yet been proven in a court of law, and Lord Black continues to deny the allegations in his characteristically orotund language. But the author of the 500-page report condemning Lord Black is Richard Brceden, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in America, and his colleagues are equally well respected and disinterested people. Moreover, they have certainly provided chapter and verse to a level of detail that must - or should - be mortifying to Lord Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel. Lord Black may continue to protest his innocence, but until he is able to prove otherwise the rest of the world will assume that a truly stupendous heist has been committed, one that bears comparison with the activities of the late Robert Maxwell.

The report alleges that 'the aggregate cash taken by Hollinger's former chief executive officer, Conrad M. Black, and its former chief operating officer, F. David Radier, and their associates, represented 95.2 per cent of Hollinger's entire adjusted net income during 1997-2003'. Wow! (Hollinger International directly con-' trolled the Telegraph Group until it recently sold it to the Barclay brothers.) To trouser 95 per cent of a company's profits is not just an example of monumental greed but also an act of madness. For how could they think that they would continue to get away with it? This is what strikes me most about this report, if it is true: the utter insanity of Lord and Lady Black. They resemble a couple of cat burglars who recklessly leave a trail of clues wherever their escapades take them, partly because they hold the forces of law and order in such low esteem, and also because they truly believe themselves to be superior people occupying a different moral realm to the rest of us.

And so the list of what the report calls 'aggressive looting' is relentless - not one or two acts of carefully calculated and cunningly executed deception, but a neverending avalanche of brazen appropriation. A Hollinger apartment in New York acquired at a rigged price; a holiday taken in Bora Bora with the company Gulfstream at a cost of $530,000; a Rolls-Royce refurbished for $90,000 at Hollinger's expense; a string of private parties and dinners charged to the company; the purchase of opera tickets, stereo equipment and even a leather briefcase paid for by Hollinger. The big and the small, the sublime and the ridiculous - all went on the company tab. 'Black's expenses practices,' says the report, 'evidenced his attitude that there was no need to distinguish what belonged to the company and what belonged to Black. In Hollinger's world everything belonged to Black.'

When I joined the Daily Telegraph in 1978, Michael Hartwell, its proprietor, would turn up in a battered Mini, and Bill Deedes, its editor, would wait at 10 o'clock in the evening for a No. 14 bus to take him to Charing Cross. I am sure that Lord Hartwell lived very well, and his elder brother, Lord Camrose, even better, but they did so within the income they drew from the newspaper. The Blacks - and perhaps Lady Black in particular - were in love with conspicuous consumption. They needed to live like the richest of American billionaires, and the income they derived legitimately from Hollinger, though very large, appears not to have been enough for them to do this. …

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