Conrad Black, the former Hollinger International Inc. chairman found guilty of fraud and obstruction of justice, said a “terribly corrupt” U.S. weakened by debt will eventually “renovate itself” and escape its temporary decline.
“It’s fundamentally an extremely strong country,” Black, 67, said today at an Empire Club of Canada luncheon in Toronto, speaking seven weeks after being freed from a U.S. prison. “It is a country with an incomparably talented and motivated workforce.”
The 25-minute speech by Black, who has written biographies on U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delved into the history of the U.S. and its relationship with Canada, its northern neighbor. Black, found guilty by a federal jury in Chicago after a four-month trial in 2007, made only a passing mention to the “difficult moments” of his 3 1/2-year imprisonment.
“No one who has not gone through it can easily imagine how lonely it is to be unjustly convicted and confined in a society that is generally assumed to be just,” the Toronto resident told an audience of about 1,000. Black said that “living in the belly of the great American beast” gave him “a refreshed perspective on Canada and its evolution and distinction from the United States.”
Americans will “sort their own house out” and the U.S. won’t remain a country in “inexorable decline,” Black said.
“It is terribly corrupt, not perhaps by the standards of a great many countries in the world, but by the standards of a great many of its peers,” he said.
Black urged Canada in his speech to step up as a global influence during a period when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations are in need of “radical reform” and the world’s currency system is in “free fall.”
“Canada has an opportunity it has never had before to be a benign influence in the world,” Black said. “It’s Canada’s turn to speak and it will not have to shout to be heard.”
When Black was chairman and chief executive officer at Hollinger from October 1995 to November 2003, the company was the world’s third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers. Its holdings included the Chicago Sun-Times, the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph and Canada’s National Post.
In 2001, Black renounced his Canadian citizenship when he accepted a life peerage in the U.K.’s House of Lords, where he holds the title Lord Black of Crossharbour.
He and four other men were accused of skimming money from the Chicago-based company. One of them, ex-finance chief F. David Radler, pleaded guilty to fraud and testified against the others. Black’s initial 6 1/2 year prison sentence was reduced by three years after Black successfully appealed two of three fraud convictions.