Saturday, July 14, 2007
Conrad Black's Tale a Fable for our Times
But not content with being a millionaire, he determined, along with his wife to live like a billionaire and when the golden goose began to lay smaller and smaller eggs, he resorted to fraud, skimming £60m from his public company's finances via a 'non-compete' scam. The world began to harbour suspicions bout the glamorous couples' finances: columnist Margaret Wente wrote:
"Only a few hundred women in the world can afford to dress like Mrs. Black, and Mrs. Black may not be among them."
His company, Hollinger International, eventually set up a special committee established to investigate his activities ; it produced a 500 page report.
One of the reasons the money was needed, the report said, was to "satisfy the liquidity needs arising for the personal lifestyle Black and his wife had chosen to lead." These choices included the purchase or lease of two corporate jets; a $530,000 holiday in French Polynesia; a $2,463 handbag; exercise equipment valued at $2,083; opera tickets for $2,785; a "birthday party for Barbara" at New York's La Grenouille restaurant costing $42,870; contributions to the salaries of a chef, senior butler, guard and chauffeurs at their homes in London, New York and Florida; perfume; food; shopping trips for Amiel; and cash for tips on such shopping trips.
In the wake of the report one judge coined the phrase, 'corporate kleptocracy' But Black refused to accept that he was living beyond his means: 'it is a total fraud that I lived with any extravagance', he argued, maintaining that he was merely living up to 'certain ideas about how the chairman of a big newspaper should behave'. Meanwhile he revelled in the mega parties he threw for the rich and powerful where, according to former associate, Andrew Neill, he used to lean in a corner watching it all in quiet exultation. He had riches, talent, good looks and a place at the top table, when often it was he who owned the table itself. Yet he wanted more- there was no limit to his ambition or appetites.
His wife, was more than his equal in hubris and contempt for the rest of us miserable little people, referring once to 'those smelly people' in cinemas and swearing never again to travel by commercial flight but to use private jets. 'My extravagance knows no bounds' she freely admitted. Truly a parable for our times. Would that a few more of these who exploit to place themselves on high could be brought down to the level they deserve: a term in the slammer.
The Guardian leader today makes a good point when observing that it was shareholders who raised the alarm, not the specially selected powerful directors including Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger. Gordon Brown should take note and further strengthen the power of shareholders to call their directors to account over items like pay and expenses.
Agree. She should be doing time with him- though I suspect his appeal will reduce what he has to serve...
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