Conrad Black gets nasty with British interviewers over his U.S. criminal convictions

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Conrad Black doesn't do contrite. Just ask Jeremy Paxman.

The ex-Canadian newspaper baron, convicted fraudster, author and peer of the realm got all up in Paxman's face when the BBC Newsnight interviewer insisted on talking about Lord Black of Crossharbour's 2007 convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States.

To be fair, Paxman pushed Black's buttons just a little, calling him a criminal repeatedly. Black insists the case that earned him almost four years in a medium-security federal prison in Florida was bogus, pointing to the fact all but two fraud counts related to accusations he looted Hollinger International were tossed out on appeal.

But Black kind of lost it when Paxman challenged him on his assessment, the National Post reports.

"You're a priggish, gullible British fool who takes seriously this ghastly American justice system that any sane English person knows is an outrage," he fulminated.

Black congratulated himself on coming through the ordeal of being "falsely charged, falsely convicted and ultimately almost completely vindicated without losing my mind, becoming irrational ... and being able to endure a discussion like this without getting up and smashing your face in, which is what most people would do they'd been through what I had been."

"Well, you go ahead," Paxman responded.

"Well, no, I don't believe in violence," said Black, who gave up his Canadian citizenship to accept a seat in the British House of Lords.

Black also took umbrage at Paxman's characterization of Black's wife, Barbara Amiel, as extravagant, a term she once used on herself.

"I think I am going to throw up," said Black, who extolled Amiel for faithfully visiting him in prison. "In my first morning back in Britain, am I to be subjected to this?"

Black, who lives in his hometown of Toronto after getting a one-year ministerial residence permit needed because he's no longer a citizen, is in London this week to promote British edition of A Matter of Principle, the chronicle of his journey through American legal system.

[Related: Conrad Black visa lands Jason Kenney in legal flap]

In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, Black likewise bridled at host Adam Boulton's reference to him as a "convicted fraudster."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. So are lots of people in Paraguay and in other unserious jurisdictions," Black replied, according to a report by CTV News.

"You're saying the United States is like Paraguay?" asked Boulton.

"In this matter, it's worse; it's like North Korea," Black replied.

Black, who has never suffered people he believes to be fools, lashed back at Boulton for saying he was deported after his conviction and had only a temporary residence visa to stay in Canada.

"Stop being a jackass, you're just being abrasive," Black retorted, adding that he left the U.S. voluntarily after being released from prison and that he plans to apply to get his Canadian citizenship back.

"I'm not a refugee struggling desperately from place-to-place looking for some place to lay my head," said Black, who travelled on his British passport.

Black's TV eruptions bode well for viewership of his scheduled appearance Friday on BBC's 'Have I Got News For You,' a comedy quiz show known to take the mickey out of its guests.

"There used to be a well-established route by which famous people who had fallen from grace would re-assimilate themselves into society," Simon Kelner wrote Tuesday in The Independent.

"Expressions of humility, an admission of guilt, a period of introspection during which the gaze of the public would be averted, and maybe some charity work, or even a religious conversion."

That's clearly not for Lord Black, he said.

"At a time when the BBC's reputation and integrity is under serious scrutiny, it is reasonable to ask whether it should be giving an opportunity for a convicted criminal to publicize his book, launder his reputation and earn a few quid."

Perhaps Kelner didn't seen the Paxman interview. He did point out the hosts of 'Have I Got News For You' have previously needled Black in absentia.

"... so it will be interesting to see how far they go when confronted in person by a man who has a considerable physical presence," Kelner wrote. "Lord Black is a big beast, in every sense."