After a New York Times exposé detailing allegations of rape and sexual abuse against him was published over the weekend, Winnipeg fashion mogul Peter Nygard disputed all accusations through a spokesman Sunday.
Nygard is facing claims in a class-action civil lawsuit filed earlier this month in New York, with 10 women listed as complainants. Since the suit was filed, more women have come forward with corroborating allegations.
Nygard's spokesman, Ken Frydman, characterized the current scandal as part of an ongoing feud with American billionaire Louis Bacon, who owns a neighbouring property to Nygard's in the Bahamas.
Frydman alleged Bacon influenced the women listed in the suit to assert false allegations against Nygard by paying them millions of dollars, buying them expensive jewelry and providing them homes in gated communities "in exchange for assisting his conspiracy."
The response came after the New York Times story, published Saturday, drew on interviews with dozens of women and former Nygard employees describing how alleged victims were lured to the 78-year-old's Bahamian home, dubbed Nygard Cay.
Times reporters interviewed all 10 women signed on to the class-action suit, as well as five others who say Nygard sexually assaulted them as teenagers. Three women said they were under 16, the age of consent in the Bahamas, but two recanted their stories, saying they had been promised money and coached to fabricate their stories.
"He preys on poor people's little girls," one former employee at the estate, who worked there for five years, told the Times.
Nygard's former employees told the Times that his staff compiled an invitation list for his estate featuring more than 700 women, whom staff said were photographed upon arrival "for their boss's perusal."
The employees, the Times reported, said teenagers and young women were coaxed into Nygard's bedroom at parties, "sometimes with the aid of alcohol and drugs."
The story also details Nygard's ongoing feud with Bacon, which has spanned a decade and cost millions of dollars in legal fees across several jurisdictions and featured both men firing fantastical accusations at each other.
Nygard — whose wealth is estimated at about $900 million according to the class-action suit — has had previous sex-crime related run-ins with the law.
In 1980, he was charged with rape in Winnipeg after an 18-year-old woman told police he'd assaulted her. After being detained in custody, Nygard signed a $7,500 surety and was released on bail; the charges were later stayed by the Crown after the woman refused to testify.
In her book, Putting Trials on Trial, Dalhousie University law professor Elaine Craig points out that complainants in sexual assault cases who testify are forced to relive trauma, and that many are distrustful of the justice system; some complainants refuse to take the stand for those reasons.
In 1996, the Free Press revealed that Nygard International, Nygard's corporate umbrella, paid more than $20,000 to three ex-employees who'd filed sexual harassment complaints with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. The company said the settlement was not an admittance of wrongdoing, and made claims that the women filed the complaints in an attempt to gain financially.
"No women should go with Nygard," Finnish model Linda Lampenius said the next year, and in response, Nygard filed a defamation lawsuit culminating in a full-page Lampenius apology in Finnish papers three years later.
In 2010, a CBC Fifth Estate documentary featured interviews alleging Nygard as abusive and known for sexually inappropriate behaviour. He filed a defamation suit, which is still before the courts.
The New York Times investigation includes details of several other allegations from women and former employees. Last month, two women separately sued Nygard for sexual battery; one said she was under the age of 18 when she visited Nygard's California home in 2012.
"Her lawsuit said Mr. Nygard knew her age, yet repeatedly had sexual intercourse with her," the Times reported.
Nygard, through Frydman, has denied any wrongdoing in the current class-action suit, and called those women putting forth allegations against him "opportunistic." Frydman said Nygard intends to pursue damages against those suing him or alleging wrongdoing.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.
Updated on Monday, February 24, 2020 at 12:58 PM CST: Link added.
1:06 PM: Adds related stories