TORONTO — Former media baron Conrad Black has been permanently banned from acting as a corporate director or officer of a public or private company in Ontario.
In a long-awaited decision Friday, the Ontario Securities Commission ruled that it’s in the public’s interest to prohibit Black and his ex-colleague, former Hollinger International Inc. chief financial officer John Boultbee, from roles that would enable the pair to direct or influence the management of a company’s business.
The ban would “properly limit their ability to undertake conduct in the future that would be detrimental to the integrity of Ontario’s capital markets,” according to the 45-page ruling.
“We have also concluded that, in the circumstances described in these reasons, such prohibitions should be permanent as there is no basis in these specific circumstances in our view for considering that the risk of future misconduct is somehow circumscribed by the passage of time.”
Black, who is out of the country, dismissed the impact of the OSC’s decision saying, as he did in testimony at the regulator’s hearings last year, that he did not have plans to hold a position as a corporate director or officer within Ontario.
“It was never a material issue, since, as I testified, no one could pay me enough to be a director or officer of a public company in that jurisdiction,” he wrote in a statement Friday, forwarded by his spokesman.
“The decision is at least welcome as the comparatively inoffensive end of more than 11 years of persecution,” Black added.
The commission also ruled Friday that a proposal to personally ban Black and Boultbee from trading securities in the province was too far-reaching, concluding that their U.S. convictions were not related to these activities.
“The role of the commission is to prevent future conduct, having looked at past conduct as a guide, and not to mete out punishment for such past conduct,” it said.
Black was convicted of wire fraud in the United States in 2007 while head of Toronto-based Hollinger Inc. in a case that, among other things, involved allegations that he and Boultbee took $600,000 from Hollinger in the form of non-compete payments.
A U.S. jury found Black, Boultbee and former business partner Peter Atkinson, guilty of three counts of fraud each. Black was also convicted of one count of obstruction of justice.
Later, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed two of the three fraud convictions against the men after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that one of the laws used to convict had been too broadly applied.
As a result of the initial verdict, Black was sentenced to 42 months and fined $125,000, serving 37 months in a Florida prison. Boultbee was sentenced to time served, fined $500 and ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution to the Sun-Times Media Group. Atkinson was given time served and fined $3,000.
Another former colleague, David Radler, reached a deal with U.S. prosecutors in return for testimony against the men. He pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud at U.S. District Court, and was sentenced to 29 months in jail and ordered to pay a fine of $250,000.
Friday’s decision by the Ontario provincial regulator follows years of litigation surrounding Black’s activities while he was head of the Hollinger group, which owned several major newspapers around the world.
Last October, he testified in front of the OSC that he had “no alternative” but to fight regulatory prohibitions on his activities and seek to clear his name of allegations and convictions that he considered illegitimate.
Black has previously been a director of several major companies, including CIBC (TSX:CM), and was both an officer and director of several of the companies within the Hollinger newspaper group that he also controlled as a major shareholder.
Despite the convictions in the U.S., Black has always insisted that he didn’t break the law.
In contrast, staff with the commission argued that Black had the potential to commit further acts of fraud because he didn’t show remorse for his actions.