Black admits he faces jail as he vows to clear name

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The Independent US

The fallen newspaper tycoon Conrad Black continued to deny any wrongdoing last night as he faced British journalists one last time before his sentencing on 10 December in Chicago.

The former Telegraph proprietor, who was convicted in July on three counts of fraud and one count of obstructing justice, appeared on a live video link at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstone's to promote his biography of the disgraced President Richard Nixon.

The man once memorably described as presiding over a "corporate kleptocracy" at his publishing empire Hollinger International, where he was accused with three others of improperly taking 30m during the sale of the company's assets, addressed his audience from his home in Palm Springs.

He remained defiant, saying he would overturn the charges which could carry a sentence of up to 15 years. Andrew Frey, the lawyer handling Black's appeal, predicted last night that the sentence could be as low as four years, if the judge follows recommendations in a report commissioned by the court.

Black said: "I'm pretty confident that the remaining counts are nonsense and we'll get rid of them on appeal. The arguments against me started out on a shock-and-awe campaign describing me as a thief on a massive scale, and have gradually shrivelled in the process."

He also declared that he and his wife, the newspaper columnist Barbara Amiel (who he described as "magnificently supportive"), planned to return and live in the UK "once this nonsense was over".

Black is confined by court order to the Chicago area and his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.

Dressed in an open collar and blue sweater, a relaxed-looking Black was however ready to admit in the meantime that some period of time behind bars was looking likely. "I would be brain dead not to recognise there's a chance of it," he said. "We've got a quarter of the way to being vindicated and expect to go through with it. Those counts are not sustainable."

Black reserved special vitriol for the US government, which he has previously accused of having assaulted and defamed his family. "Whatever the limitations of the US government in quelling the insurrection in Iraq, they're pretty good at terrorising innocent civilians."

When asked if there was any book he recommended buying from the high-street bookseller hosting the event, he cheerfully suggested The Trial by Frank Kafka. "I read it first at university, now I'm re-reading it," he joked. "When I first read it I thought it was a novel. Now I realise it's journalism."

Black's book, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Invisible Quest, follows his 2004 tome on Franklin Roosevelt. Now, as he awaits his sentence, Black reflected that the next memoirs he writes are most likely to be his own.

"I wrote about myself a few years ago and no one was interested. Due to my solicitude with the media, [another book] might sell quite well."

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