Leading article: Chutzpah and crookery

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There will not be many tears shed for Conrad Black as he goes down for six and a half years' imprisonment for fraud and obstruction of justice in the US. Indeed, he has never asked for sympathy, protesting his innocence to the last and eschewing any hint of contrition. And yet there has been, and no doubt remains in some quarters, a certain rueful respect for a man who has always seemed to act out a character from Scott Fitzgerald or a television soap.

Conrad Black has behaved like, and indeed modelled himself on, the newspaper barons of yesterday, spending big, talking loud, acting hugely and dressing up madly. His lawyers, wisely, kept him from pleading in his own defence, fearing that his grandiloquence would put off a jury of ordinary citizens expecting at least a show of penitence from a man found guilty of creaming off millions from his company and his shareholders.

And there is the argument that the most culpable in this whole sorry affair has been less the rogue himself, who never concealed his conspicuous consumption at the company's expense, but the directors Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger and the rest of the great and good who accepted his shilling to sit there passing payments without even reading the papers.

But Black it was who committed the deeds for which he has been found guilty and now sentenced to prolonged imprisonment. Small fry the single mother pocketing food in the supermarket and the clerk taking from the cash register are sent to jail for it. So should the big fish. All the chutzpah in the world cannot cancel out crookery.

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