A Canadian fashion mogul, a piece of paradise in the Bahamas and environmental concerns are at the heart of a controversy that is garnering international attention.
Some of the world’s wealthiest people, including actor Sir Sean Connery, U.S. billionaire hedge-fund manager Louis Bacon, and a local campaign group that share Peter Nygard’s exclusive ocean-front neighbourhood in the Bahamas, have filed legal complaints against the Bahamian government, condemning Nygard’s development activities.
The founder of one of the world’s biggest women’s fashion companies, Nygard says he is not altering the ecosystem on the bay around his extravagant estate.
Nygard, 71, has not been specifically named as a respondent in the two lawsuits, both of which were filed last Monday.
In an email, Nygard’s Winnipeg-based lawyer said: “Peter Nygard has been a champion of the Bahamas and specifically the preservation of Simms Point and Jaws Beach for more than 30 years. Mr. Nygard fully supports protecting the environment of the Bahamas.”
Read Nygard lawyer’s full statement here.
Richard Good, a lawyer for Nygard, declined to answer the Star’s questions but sent a statement previously issued by the company and its lawyers.
The legal complaint by the group that includes Connery and Bacon accuses the government of lacking transparency during a public consultation period as Nygard seeks to rebuild his 150,000-square foot complex, which was extensively damaged by fire in 2009.
In the statement emailed to the Star, Nygard’s lawyer said that in 2010, Nygard “made an application to the government for permits regarding the reconstruction of his private residence. Since filing for the permits, Mr. Nygard has fully co-operated during a long wait period of four years. The required environmental assessments have been completed and are in the hands of the government, including the most recent assessment completed in February 2014.”
In the other lawsuit, Save the Bays, a group that says it is dedicated to the preservation of ecology in Bahamas, said in documents filed in court that Nygard has gradually increased the size of the property he bought in 1984 from three to six acres by “placing and constructing walls, buildings, concrete docks, huge lions, temples, a helicopter pad, groynes, pylons, breakwaters, gabions and other structures on, above and below the sea bed.”
“Unregulated development is a huge issue facing the Bahamas,” said Fred Smith, co-founder of Save the Bays, in a phone interview from the Bahamas. “And Mr. Nygard is an example of that, at the Clifton Bay area.”
In legal documents, Save the Bays describes Clifton Bay as an “ecologically sensitive and culturally important marine body” that “is critical for the local diving and snorkelling industry, and is home to coral reefs and conch populations.”
The emailed statement from Nygard says the fashion tycoon “specifically designed his home to showcase the natural beauty of the Bahamas and to preserve its natural environment.”
Nygard’s statement alleges that Bacon, the American hedge-fund manager, is behind Save the Bays group because he wants Nygard’s home.
“As Mr. Nygard’s immediate neighbour in Lyford Cay, Mr. Bacon has orchestrated continual attacks on Mr. Nygard for many years. Louis Bacon has always wanted Nygard Cay for himself and Mr. Nygard has never been interested in selling his home.”
Save the Bays campaign said Bacon, who is listed in court documents along with Robert Kennedy Jr. as a director of the organization, was a donor like many others but insisted that it was a coalition of concerned residents and environmentalists.
“The track record of everyone involved shows that we not a mouthpiece for Mr. Bacon,” said Smith in a phone interview.
While Save the Bays also said it was concerned that Nygard would build a much talked-about stem cell research facility in the residential neighbourhood, Nygard’s statement said those claims are “false.”
“He (Nygard) has no intent of building a stem-cell facility on his property, and has made no application to use his property in that manner. In fact, his application is to invest $50 million and employ approximately 200 Bahamian people to simply complete the reconstruction of his private residence.”
Meanwhile, in late June a local Bahamas newspaper reported on a letter that Nygard wrote on July 10, 1992 to Perry Christie, then minister of agriculture, trade and industry and now the prime minister of the Bahamas.
In the letter, Nygard acknowledged a total pledge of $45,000 to Christie’s party and asked for an official name change of the land where his home has been built so that it would be known as Nygard Cay, not Simms Point. Nygard sought the certification of the change “by the time Forbes magazine comes to do a story here on July 17th” and that name be official “for the end of the month for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ‘shoot.’ ”
He also asked for help solve issues relating to his property and expansion plans.
Nygard also wrote: “This whole world is based on one hand helping the other and you know that I am prepared to do whatever is in my capacity to help out the Bahamas and the PLP party and, of course, yourself in any way I can.”