Last updated: May 4, 2012 2:17 pm

Conrad Black released from prison

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Conrad Black’s release from a Florida prison on Friday capped a good recent period for the disgraced peer and former media magnate.

Two weeks ago, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled he could pursue libel cases against Richard Breeden, a former head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and other one-time executives of Hollinger International, the Chicago-based company of which Lord Black was chief executive and chairman.

The ruling was academic, since the two sides had already come to a settlement but Lord Black nevertheless declared himself “delighted” by the verdict.

Last week, Lord Black’s latest book, A Matter of Principle – which is about his trial – was shortlisted for Canada’s National Business Book Award, putting him among the final three for the C$20,000 ($20,300) prize.

This week, he was granted a one-year temporary residency permit to return to his native Canada upon his release, despite having surrendered his citizenship more than a decade ago in order to accept a British peerage.

The permit could prove to be a path back to becoming a Canadian again. Lord Black has said in the past he wants to live in Toronto, where he owns a home and where Barbara Amiel, his wife, has been living – although a representative declined to tell the Financial Times whether he intended to return to Canada.

To top it all, Lord Black was freed a day earlier than his scheduled date. “When a release date falls on a weekend, we can release them on the Friday prior to that weekend,” said the US Federal Bureau of Prisons.

It will mark the end of a long and sorry saga for a man who once controlled an international media empire that stretched from Canada to the UK to Israel, but who for the past eight months has been chiefly known as prisoner 18330-424 at a federal jail near Miami.

This has been his second time in prison in recent years on charges of fraud and obstruction of justice. Lord Black previously served 29 months in prison following his 2007 conviction, until the US Supreme Court ruled against the “honest services” law that had formed part of the case against him. He returned to prison in September after being resentenced on the remaining charges.

Lord Black will undoubtedly be relieved to be out of prison but his time in jail has not been without positives. He learnt to play the piano. He tutored and gave lectures to other inmates.

He wrote columns for the Huffington Post website and Canada’s National Post, the newspaper he launched in 1998. He once told the newspaper that he ended most prison days “drinking coffee well made by Colombian fellow residents”.

Lord Black wrote a column published in the Financial Times last year, in which he opined on embattled media mogul Rupert Murdoch; “a great bad man”, he called him. “It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness.”

Although Lord Black remains a member of the UK House of Lords, Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, has prepared legislation that would allow members of the upper chamber who are imprisoned for more than a year to be stripped of their titles. Under current rules, peers cannot lose their titles.

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