November 28, 2005 -- TORONTO ˜ Indicted in the U.S. and ostracized in Britain, Conrad Black is now holed up in Canada, the country he once renounced.
Lord Black, who is expected to appear in a Chicago court Wednesday for his arraignment on charges he looted $84 million from newspaper giant Hollinger International, doesn't seem humbled by the specter of 40 years in prison, public humiliation or financial ruin. "Compared to some of the others that have gone under the knife, Black is a different order of magnitude with his personal abilities, intelligence and intestinal fortitude," said one friend in Toronto.
The Blacks reside in an enormous Georgian-style mansion on 61/2 acres in Toronto's Bridle Path area, also called "Millionaires' Row." Pop singer Prince lives down the street.
A butler answers the door for visitors allowed past the security gate. And despite a report of furniture and art being carted away, a glance around the main entrance hall proves he possesses some of both.
So far, there is little evidence of contrition. At a book launch party here last week, a belligerent Black dismissed the charges as a "massive smear job from A to Z" and predicted a "complete vindication of the defendants and exposure of their persecutors."
Famed attorney Edward Greenspan, described by one person as "the Johnnie Cochran of Canada," represents him. Black apparently postponed his arraignment until this week because he had not yet found a U.S. lawyer.
Black was ousted from Hollinger, which owns papers around the globe such as the Chicago Sun-Times and formerly the Daily Telegraph of London, amid accusations that he lined his pockets at the expense of shareholders.
He and three former executives are accused of looting the company.
U.S. prosecutors allege that Black, who was indicted this month on 11 counts, used the money to support a lavish lifestyle, including a $62,000 birthday party for his wife, a vacation to Bora Bora and the renovation of two Manhattan apartments.
The accusations alone were enough for London's high society ˜ which Black and his stunning wife, Barbara Amiel, had set out to conquer ˜ to shun the couple. After the invitations dried up, the Blacks retreated to Toronto.
Canadians seem to have a love-hate relationship with Black, and vice versa. Many were deeply offended four years ago when he traded his Canadian citizenship to become a British lord after a spat with the prime minister.
"He is controversial, but also a hugely engaging person," said Rudyard Griffiths, who runs the Dominion Institute, a charitable group dedicated to preserving Canada's heritage. "The city has missed his presence."
Black ˜ referred to in one paper as "our most obnoxious prodigal son" ˜ is now reported to be seeking to regain Canadian citizenship to take advantage of a kindler, gentler penal system.
"For him to come back crawling as it were would require some public-relations exercise in massaging the issue and treating the country with respect," said Ben Trister, a leading immigration lawyer. "His best advice is to be contrite and cooperative."
This does not seem to be in his makeup. A few days before he was indicted, Black caused a stir at a gala for Maclean's magazine by serving noted author Peter C. Newman with a $1.7 million libel suit along with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
"He looked like the cat that ate the canary," said one guest.
Black has taken hits to his reputation while signs of financial strain are showing. There is also the sting of gossip.
The former golden couple work at keeping up appearances, hobnobbing at exclusive clubs and black-tie events. Black missed a dinner party the night of his indictment but resurfaced just days later at the annual Churchill Society dinner at the Four Seasons.
"There are two-faced people who say nasty things about them," said Shinan Govani, the gossip columnist for the National Post, a paper Black founded. "At the same time there is a glamour associated with them."
Nonetheless, Black sold his London townhouse in May and his Manhattan apartment in June, suggesting his legal bills are mounting.
He also mortgaged the Toronto estate last year for $32.3 million ˜ more than it might fetch on the market ˜ at 12.68 percent. Under the terms, he didn't have to make payments for the first year.
The most recent tax records available from January 2003 assess the property at $6.3 million, but real estate agents say it would list for somewhere in the $20 million range. "There are people here with more money than he has," said a broker who specializes in upscale properties. "In one sense I think he's deluded."
Black's reversal of fortune is the subject of an oil painting that hangs in a Toronto gallery. The portrait, titled "Henry VIII-Magnate," puts Black next to the dead king after he is "knocked back to the 1500s by his corporate problems," according to artist Dennis Geden.
Walter Moos, the gallery owner and an art dealer in Toronto since 1959, wrote to Black about the $15,000 painting but never got a response. He believes Black didn't read the letter.