Conrad Black in Toronto, Canada. Picture: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI
Conrad Black in Toronto, Canada. Picture: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI

Washington — US President Donald Trump has pardoned former media tycoon Conrad Black, formally forgiving the Hollinger International founder of a conviction for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

Black, who served three and a half years in prison after a federal jury found that he illegally diverted money that belonged to stockholders to himself, founded a company that, at one time, owned some of the world’s most best-known newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post.

In 2018, he published a book, Donald J Trump: A President Like No Other.

In a column in Canada’s National Post, Black said Trump himself gave him the good news in a phone call. “When my assistant said there was a call from the White House, I picked up, said ‘Hello’ and started to ask if this was a prank, (suspecting my friends in the British tabloid media),” Black wrote.

He said that Trump got on the line saying, “Is that the great Lord Black?” Black became a member of the British House of Lords in 2001.

‘Entirely deserving’

Prosecutors said Black and other executives recharacterised bonus payments stemming the sale of community newspapers without the approval of the company’s board so as to avoid Canadian taxes. The government argued that in doing so, the individuals breached the duty of “honest services” owed to the company and its shareholders.

But two of his three fraud convictions were voided after the US supreme court ruled that the “honest services” law was unconstitutionally vague. Black has lived in his native Canada since being deported from the US following his May 2012 release from a Florida prison.

The White House said on Wednesday that Black’s case “has attracted broad support from many high-profile individuals who have vigorously vouched for his exceptional character”, including former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and the singer and composer Elton John. The statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also credited Black’s “tremendous contributions to business, as well as to political and historical thought”.

“In light of these facts, Mr Black is entirely deserving of this grant of executive clemency,” she said.

Black and Trump knew each other before the president’s election, with Trump attending a 2000 birthday party for Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel.

Black, who has also written a biography of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has praised Trump in recent years. In an interview last year with Bloomberg Television, he said Trump would be remembered historically as a “good president” and occasionally acted outrageously so adversaries would underestimate him.