Four years in a Florida federal prison seems to have changed Conrad Black.
The media mogul who once owned the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, Israel’s Jerusalem Post and Canada’s National Post is generally considered an icon of conservatism, but in a recent editorial meeting with The Huffington Post Canada, he sounded at times like an Occupy Wall Street protester, declaring the financial crisis of 2008 to be “shocking” and the LIBOR scandal “seriously disturbing.”
Then again, the former owner of media company Hollinger also sounded like a pro-business libertarian at times, suggesting that white-collar criminals -- of which he fervently denies he is one -- should do little to no jail time, and would better serve society by being put to work.
Black said he was dumbfounded by the revelations about subprime mortgage lending that emerged after the 2008 financial crisis, which resulted in a $700-billion bailout of major U.S. banks by the federal government.
“I never imagined they would certify (these subprime mortgages) as investment grade,” he said, referring to the practice by some credit ratings agencies of certifying securitized mortgages as AAA debt, the best rating there is, despite evidence that many investment banks knew they were worthless.
He described the LIBOR scandal -- in which bankers are alleged to have manipulated a key interest rate -- as a “very disturbing encumbrance” on the reputation of the banking sector.
But asked if he thought dishonest bankers and financial advisors should be facing jail time, Conrad suggested white collar criminals don’t belong there.
“I don’t think throwing people in jail is the answer,” he said.
Black described convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff’s 150-year prison sentence as “nonsense.” He suggested that “maybe a little jail time” would have been appropriate, but “the best you could do … is to get them to work.”
“Everybody makes mistakes,” he said.
Black was sentenced to six-and-half years in prison by a U.S. federal court in 2007 on three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice stemming from his time as head of Hollinger.
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The U.S. Supreme Court tossed out two of his fraud convictions, and Black ended up spending some four years behind bars.
He was released from prison this spring, returning to his native Canada. But because he renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001, he is in the country on a temporary visa.
In interviews with The Huffington Post Canada, Black criticized the growing practice of prison privatization, called former U.S. President George W. Bush a “bonehead,” and suggested he may be interested in once again becoming a media mogul.