US President Donald Trump has pardoned former media mogul Conrad Black, who served more than three years in prison after being convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007.
The 74-year-old Canadian-born British citizen once ran an international newspaper empire that included The Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Black had made “tremendous contributions to business, and to political and historical thought”, adding that high-profile individuals – including Henry Kissinger, Elton John and Rush Limbaugh – had “vigorously vouched for his exceptional character”.
Mr Trump called Black to inform him of the pardon last week, with the president saying it would “expunge the bad wrap you got”.
The pair have previously described each other as friends, with Mr Trump calling Black “one of the truly great intellects and my friend”, after Black wrote an article in the National Enquirer titled “Trump Is The Good Guy” about his election campaign.
In response to the December 2015 tweet, Black wrote: “Many thanks, Donald and all good wishes in helping to clean up the American government. Honored to be your friend.”
He wrote a column on Wednesday in Canada’s National Post describing the phone call in which Mr Trump gave him the news, and revealed he initially thought it was a prank.
“I had not spoken to the current president since he took office,” he said.
“When my assistant said there was a call from the White House, I picked up, said ‘Hello’ and started to ask if this was a prank (suspecting my friends in the British tabloid media).
“Two seconds later probably the best-known voice in the world said, ‘is that the great Lord Black?’ I said, ‘Mr President, you do me great honour telephoning me’.
“He could not have been more gracious and quickly got to his point: he was granting me a full pardon that would ‘Expunge the bad wrap you got’.”
He added: “The American criminal justice system is frequently and largely evil; I was convicted for attempted obstruction of injustice. It was never anything but a smear job.”
A jury found Black illegally received $3.5m (£1.75m) as they convicted him of three counts of fraud and one of obstruction of justice at a high-profile trial in Chicago, Illinois, in 2017.
Prosecutors said he received millions of dollars in payments from companies who had bought newspapers from his Hollinger International group, in return for promises that he would not compete against them.
It was alleged he and other executives pocketed the money, which should have gone to shareholders, without telling Hollinger’s board of directors.
Black was cleared of a further six counts of fraud, with the jury of nine women and three men clearing him of charges of racketeering and tax evasion.
He was granted bail to pursue an appeal against his conviction in 2010, with two of the fraud counts against him overturned in October of that year.
A judge reduced his sentence to three years and he returned to prison in September 2011.
In an interview with Sky’s Adam Boulton five months after his release in October 2012, Black insisted he had done nothing wrong and had been unfairly targeted by the US legal system.
“The fact that 99.5% of prosecutions in that country end in convictions … it’s such a stacked deck. We so dismembered their case and struck down the prosecuting statute as unconstitutional, I feel I’ve done quite well,” he said.