Monday, March 05, 2007

Fitz's next gig

Mark Steyn's eyelids are raised at what has happened to Conrad Black:

...Richard C. Breeden, the court-appointed "corporate monitor" at the collapsed WorldCom and an "adviser" to the special committee of Hollinger International, is on course to become the first corporate governance billionaire. This guy has a 52-foot custom-built racing sloop with running costs of 30 grand a month in a class restricted to the likes of King Harald of Norway and King Juan Carlos of Spain. And he earned it through "corporate governance." Who knew there was so much money in complaining about the excessive salaries of American executives? As Olga and Adrian Stein note dryly in Books In Canada, it is "a remarkable achievement to have turned the knotty subject of ethics ... into a financial fortune."

....I hasten to add I have nothing against Richard Breeden. And I certainly have no desire to attract his attention in any way whatsoever. But it is striking that all the phrases that set off alarm bells in relation to Conrad Black -- "excessive compensation," "Cayman Islands," "lavish personal tastes" -- apply to Mr. Breeden equally and then some. And Mr. Breeden doesn't create any goods, doesn't publish any daily newspapers, doesn't produce anything except internal memos. It's four years since Hollinger put him on the payroll at 800 bucks an hour.

.... in fees to Mr. Breeden and other expenses, the cost of investigating Conrad Black's management of Hollinger International was up over $136 million -- by the middle of last year. By now it's topped the $200 million the Black team is alleged to have "ransacked" from the company....Think of Conrad Black as a psycho teen holding his Grade 10 class hostage in the school gym. Richard Breeden, Patrick Fitzgerald, Judge Strine of Delaware and the rest of the SWAT team storm in, gun down Conrad, plus his hostages, plus grades one through nine, and then pronounce the operation a great success.

....But beyond the losses to investors in two countries and readers on three continents are more basic questions. What has been done to Hollinger International is astonishing, and has very worrying implications for anyone with a public company in the United States: Hollinger International was not an Enron or WorldCom -- a failing business of worthless properties fleecing its employees' retirement plans. The most that can be said against it was that it had a sluggish stock price. Yet, on that basis, courts and regulators have removed a company from its lawful controlling shareholders and delivered it into the hands of a small group of usurpers with no equity in the business, who sidelined the owners and proceeded to gut the enterprise, sell off the assets and even change the corporate name, all the while compensating themselves on as lavish a scale as the allegedly profligate regime the courts and regulators used to justify the usurpation. If this is "corporate governance," let's cut to the chase and adopt relatively straightforward Afro-Marxist confiscation.

The trial of Mr Black is scheduled to begin March 14th (if Fitzgerald can be finished with Scooter Libby by then).

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