Author Peter C. Newman has claimed that Conrad Black's wife, journalist Barbara Amiel, was a "catalyst" that partly explains why the former publishing tycoon "blew himself out of the water" and ended up in the sights of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In an interview with the Straight while promoting his new autobiography, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power (McClelland & Stewart, $42.99), Newman said that Black had always lived a life of luxury, but it wasn't out of control. However, after he married Amiel, more stories started appearing in the media describing the couple's lavish lifestyle.
Newman said that SEC officials have told him that "they kept adding up her closet" after reading news reports. "She wasn't the cause, but she was the catalyst," Newman claimed.
He said that these stories also caught the attention of at least one institutional investor in Hollinger International, who sued. The board ordered an investigation; a subsequent report claimed that Black and his associates diverted hundreds of millions in company profits. Black and his Vancouver-based business partner, David Radler, have rejected these allegations, which haven't been proven, and claimed they were defamatory.
Newman wrote an entertaining chapter about Black and Amiel in his autobiography. He also wrote a biography of Black in 1982 called The Establishment Man (McClelland & Stewart), praising the businessman's intellect and stunning memory.
On January 13, 1983, Black wrote a letter to Newman complaining that the author had created a "fictitious image...of a chillingly ruthless and rather conceited person, obsessed with materialism, pontificating endlessly, and viewing the world through the prism of a 'reactionary proprietor'."
Buried deep within the book was a section dealing with Black's legal battle with Hanna Mining Co. in connection with a corporate takeover.
According to the book, a U.S. judge concluded that the evidence supported Hanna Mining's allegations of "manipulative violations" of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Act; Black filed an appeal, though he also signed a consent decree with the SEC promising not to violate federal securities laws.
SEC spokesperson Peter K.M. Chan told the Straight on November 23 that a civil injunction was filed as part of Black's consent decree in the Hanna Mining case. Speaking generally about the law and not about Black specifically, Chan said, "If that same person is found to have violated the federal securities law again in violation of the civil injunction, that may--I emphasize may--lead to a finding that the person is in either civil or criminal contempt of the court's order."
Chan said that typically, this comes after a judge has presided over evidentiary hearings. The SEC has not proven any allegations in its civil suit against Black and Radler, who've each proclaimed their innocence.