Conrad Black released from Florida prison

A U.S Immigration van carrying former media baron Conrad Black leaves the Federal Correction Institute in Miami is seen Friday, May 4, 2012 in Miamil. Black was released Friday after serving his sentence for obstruction of justice.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MIAMI - Conrad Black has been released from the Florida prison where he was completing a 42-month sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice.

"As of this morning, he's not in our custody," said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. prison bureau.

But the former media baron has yet to taste freedom.

U.S. immigration officials say they now have custody over Black, who doesn't have American citizenship. Black is facing deportation and could travel to either Canada or Great Britain.

"I can confirm that he's in (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) custody," said bureau spokesman Nestor Yglesias.

He would not say where Black was headed, citing privacy laws.

Black was believed to be in a three-vehicle caravan that rushed out the front gate of the Federal Correctional Institute in Miami on Friday at 8:15 a.m.

Two SUVs and a green van with tinted windows roared out of the suburban complex. At least two of the vehicles had immigration department decals.

Despite the fact Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to accept a British peerage, the federal government granted his application for a one-year temporary resident permit, paving the way for his return to Canada.

Black was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice charges in 2007 for his business dealings while at the helm of newspaper giant Hollinger.

He was resentenced last year to 3 1/2 years behind bars, but released after just eight months with credit for time served.

Black's home since September had been a nondescript, low-lying, concrete fortress about a half-hour drive from downtown that features outdoor amenities like basketball courts and a baseball diamond.

Only the imposing barriers and Department of Justice signs at the gate, which is at the end of the long suburban boulevard lined with towering palm trees, betray the facility as a correctional institution.

News of his likely return to the country he'd forsaken more than a decade ago divided Canadians of all political stripes.

"In 2001, Canada wasn't good enough for Conrad Black," Calgary resident Paul Hanson wrote in a recent letter to the Globe and Mail.

"In 2012, Conrad Black isn't good enough for Canada."

But a reader on the CBC's website wrote "Should we keep him out because he is a rich, white guy?"

"He has paid his debt to society. He has the money to pay his own way, he is unlikely to reoffend and he can write a good news article.... Welcome home Conrad."

Not surprisingly, two days of fierce debate erupted on the floor of the House of Commons when news emerged that Black had been granted a temporary reprieve from the strict conditions that typically keep the majority of convicted felons off Canadian soil.

"Thousands of people are following the rules and waiting their turn to be admitted to Canada,'' complained NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, accusing the governing Conservatives of having a double standard.

Friends of the Tories — even those who are no longer Canadian citizens — get special consideration, he railed, while those without the benefit of such political sympathies are left out in the cold.

"No one else has ever been in that situation, of being still in jail having his dossier marched around all the offices of the minister and getting his approval before even getting out of the slammer."

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney insisted there was no political interference and that the decision to approve Black's February application for a temporary permit was made entirely by "highly trained, independent members of our public service."

Headlines notwithstanding, the man emerging from prison is sure to be a shadow in some form of the one who went in.

The Montreal-born Black, whose empire was once worth hundreds of millions of dollars and included newspapers in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, told an interviewer last year that his first jail term — during which he cleaned latrines and tutored fellow inmates — had made him "humbler."

Brian Stewart, a former CBC journalist and lifelong friend of Black's, insists he's noticed changes in his pal. Stewart said Black now believes that many people — including himself — have been wronged by the U.S. justice system.

"Once he saw the real injustice around him like that, which in his past life he wasn't really in a position to see, he reacted," Stewart said.

"Everyone who knows him that I've talked to — who's known him for a long time — says the transformation has been impressive."

One of Black's biographers, who lunched with the former media tycoon shortly before he returned to jail in September, thought the businessman genuinely seemed like someone who wanted to move on.

"But that will be the question: 'Is there a quieter, stealthier version of Conrad Black?'" said Richard Siklos, the journalist and Black biographer who wrote "Shades of Black" and "Shades of Black: Conrad Black — His Rise and Fall."

"I kind of think so. I think he's probably ready for a new phase."

Black's trademark big personality and character remained very much intact, he added.

"I think that's part of his message to the world — that despite everything's he's been through, he's unchanged," Siklos said.

"And as far as he's concerned, he was in the right all along."

A former head of Hollinger, Black controlled a media empire that included The Daily Telegraph of London, the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers across Canada and the U.S.