In classical literature, a dénouement consists of a series of events that follow a dramatic or narrative’s climax, thus serving as the conclusion to the story. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader.

The trial and conviction of Conrad Black on three counts of mail fraud and one of obstructing the course of justice on Friday in Chicago does no such thing.

US attorney Patrick FitzGerald said dishonest company directors the world over would “think twice” as a result of the verdict: “If you are going to take liberties with other people’s money, there are going to be consequences.”

Black will not be sentenced till November 30 but as long as shareholders have money to steal, directors will try to steal it.

“Bank robbers wear masks and use guns. Burglars wear dark clothing and use a crowbar. These four, three lawyers and an accountant, dressed in ties and wore a suit,” said Assistant US attorney Jeffrey Cramer in his opening statement.

The compelling convicting evidence came from Black’s long-term friend and key witness David Radler, who pleaded guilty and co-operated with the US government in return for a more lenient sentence in a Canadian jail: “Conrad Black suggested that we insert ourselves in the non-compete process and I agreed.”

Black had previously accused prosecutors of being “Nazis”, while his lawyers argued in court that the government’s case appealed to jurors’ class prejudice.

Faced with the issue of how to simplify the bogus “non-compete” clauses for the jury, prosecutors brandished a copy of the Mammoth Times, a weekly paper for a tiny California mountain town. Black and his partners paid themselves US$5.5m not to set up a rival paper – not a promise they were likely to break, since they still owned it.

In Black: A ruthless tycoon, David Litterick wrote in the Sunday Telegraph:

Every day of his fraud trial, Conrad Black sauntered into the courtroom in Chicago with the disdainful air of a man who had seen it all before. The attacks on his character, the carping at his business dealings and the outrage – tinged with envy – at his lavish lifestyle; Lord Black has made a career of taking on his critics and winning.

While many men would have buckled under the relentless storm of disapproval, Black carried on, fortified by his trademark characteristic – the supreme self-confidence that brooks no dissent. “Humility is a good quality, though it can be overdone,” he once told The Wall Street Journal, in a line that many critics and admirers would think a suitable epitaph.

On Friday, David Litterick wrote from Chicago in the Daily Telegraph:

The peer, whose love of expensive objets d’art, lavish parties and fine wine was richly detailed during his fraud trial, could spend the next 20 years sharing cheap food and a bare and uncomfortable prison cell – and showers – with numerous other criminals.

Wherever he ends up, Lord Black is likely to be strip-searched and fingerprinted and removed of all his belongings, aside from a wristwatch and wedding ring.

If the system judges him particularly harshly – and as a non-US citizen he could be deemed a flight risk – he could end up in a medium security prison, where guards patrol the razor wire with dogs and prisoners are forced to work as cleaners or cooks for less than a dollar an hour.

According to some studies, around 20 per cent of the Midwest prison population report being coerced into sexual activity. Other studies show around 40 per cent of prisoners are infected with hepatitis.

Lady Black has stood by her man – so far, says Tom Leonard in the Telegraph:

Meanwhile, Lady Black has sat there, an always immaculately turned out presence in the second row of the courtroom’s public seats. She has contributed nothing to the trial apart from an unfortunate lapse at the start of the trial when – descending in the lift – she described journalists as “vermin” and denounced one particular television news producer as a “slut”.

Such language comes less from the Kensington salon and more perhaps from her proudly proclaimed roots as a North London Jewish girl who had to make her own way in life. “My husband is very rich, but I am not… I have been a bitch all my life and did not need the authority of money to be one,” she once wrote.

“I am a North London Jew who has read a bit of history. This means I know this: in a century that has seen the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian, British and Soviet empires. Reversal of fortune is the rich bitch’s reality. “One might as well keep working and have the family’s Vuitton suitcases packed.”

And Amiel, the virulently right-wing journalist, did indeed keep working even as her husband stood trial. In a column earlier this month in Macleans, a Canadian magazine, she sketched a picture of her life far removed from the “rich bitch” of yore. “Chicago routine is straightforward: get up at 6.45am, leave for court at 8.25 am, pat-down by pleasant security man 8.50am, listen to nasty things said about us till 5pm,” she wrote.

“Back to the hotel, watch Joanie and George for five minutes, make dinner in the nifty galley kitchen of our hotel suite and then write till bedtime…day ends with hand laundry and hot bath while listening to iPod with Brahms symphonies and Roy Orbison before reading myself to sleep.”

George and Joanie are the names she has given to a couple who appear in a short film on the hotel’s television to demonstrate the building’s fire drill. Lord Black, who often goes out to dine alone as she opts for roast chicken in the suite, “worries that I have gone balmy (sic)”.

That’s one for the experts, though friends say Lady Black is highly stressed but hiding it well. Still, if she is cooking her own chicken suppers and washing her smalls out in the sink, Lady Black has adapted to her drastically new circumstances with aplomb. Long remarked on by others, Barbara Amiel’s strong survival instinct appears not to have to deserted her.

Crikey rests its case.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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