By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Government officials recommended that fashion mogul Peter Nygard be prosecuted for Town Planning Act breaches 14 years ago, newly-released documents have revealed.
The documents, which have been assessed by Tribune Business, also show the Government was warned more than two decades ago about the potential damage that unregulated development by Mr Nygard and other Lyford Cay residents was having on the Bahamas’s reputation as an investment and second home destination.
A 1993 letter sent to then-Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham warned that many Lyford Cay owners were putting their homes up for sale as a result, with the Government told that “news spreads and people start to look for other destinations”.
The documents, taken from the Town Planning files, show that government officials have been aware of Mr Nygard’s unregulated, unpermitted activities at Nygard Cay for 15-20 years.
Yet the Canadian fashion multi-millionaire has seemingly been allowed to carry on without any interference, raising major questions about the seeming ‘impotence’ of the Government’s regulators to enforce the ‘rule of law’ and bring wealthy, politically-connected persons to heel.
The files, which were accessed as part of a government-commissioned report on activities at Nygard Cay, delivered on April 30, 2013, reveal:
- The Ministry of Finance’s then-attorney, and now National Insurance Board (NIB) director, Rowena Bethel, was directed to prepare a “prosecution” of Mr Nygard, for Town Planning Act breaches at his Lyford Cay home, on September 13, 2000.
“A summary violations and files dealing are enclosed for ease of reference,” wrote Audley Greaves for the Ministry of Finance’s permanent secretary.
It is unclear whether such a prosecution took place, but this appears unlikely given that Mr Nygard’s construction activities have continued apace ever since.
- Various complaints were made about Mr Nygard’s construction activities by individual homeowners and the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association throughout the mid to late-1990s.
The Department of Physical Planning issued two warnings to Mr Nygard in summer 1998, ordering him to stop enclosing the seabed (Crown Land) and “correct the situation” - something the Nygard Cay owner promised to do.
Charles Zonicle, on behalf of the acting physical planning director, told Mr Nygard in a June 16, 1998, letter to “discontinue all work” on a groin until the regulators made a final decision.
And, in a July 3, 1998, letter, Michael Major, acting director of physical planning, told another Lyford Cay resident that Mr Nygard had been asked to “correct the situation”.
That, though, appeared not to have happened. An August 10, 1998, letter to Mr Major by the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association, summarising a meeting with him, said no permit had been issued yet Mr Nygard “has ignored government orders by continuing construction”.
Nygard Cay’s neighbours were “concerned and alarmed” back then about the erosion effects to their property, but Mr Nygard had assured them that his activities would improve the beaches.
“Yet, even after the extent of the erosion became apparent, and government officials ordered a halt to construction of the breakwater, Mr Nygard has continued with construction,” the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association wrote.
- Government officials were aware that Mr Nygard’s construction activities lacked the necessary permits from at least 1998 and 2000.
An August 24, 2000, memorandum from Michael Major, the now director of physical planning, to Audley Greaves in the Prime Minister’s Office, said of Nygard Cay: “Much of this activity is outside the scope of valid permits ...
‘You will find that some work has been completed in violation of provisions of the Town Planning Act and the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act.
“Subsequent inspections discovered additional work (excavation) completed on the northern coast without permission, and storage of debris on the southern coastline.”
- A 2000 report by Coastal & Environmental Consultants warned the Government that Mr Nygard’s unauthorised seabed reclamation was effectively theft of the Bahamian people’s real estate, namely Crown Land.
The report, which warned that Mr Nygard’s activities had stopped the westward drift of sand to replenish neighbouring Lyford Cay properties, noted “another disturbing development”.
It said that the placement of rocks in wire cages under the water “is an apparent attempt to append Crown Land on the Clifton Bay side to Mr Nygard’s property, as has already been done on the ocean side”.
The report added: “in summary, the damaging activities by Mr Peter Nygard should be stopped immediately and recent activities reversed.”
The damaging consequences for the Bahamas, from the 15-20 year failure of the Government to enforce the law in the case of Mr Nygard, and similar projects, were highlighted by a July 26, 1993, letter sent to then-Prime Minister Ingraham by Glenn Franklin, managing partner of Land Design of Nassau.
He wrote on behalf of a client, Alfredo Cuomo, who purchased a property in Lyford Cay as a retirement home, and had already donated a collective $200,000 to the likes of the Elizabeth’s Children Home and Lyford Cay Scholarship Foundation.
“Several people, including Mr Cuomo, are so upset by the destruction of the natural shoreline in Clifton Bay and Simms Point that they have put their homes up for sale,” Mr Franklin wrote.
“It is no longer possible to walk the shoreline because individual property owners have had marine construction companies build huge groins or landfills from their property line out into the water.”
Mr Franklin added: “Mr Peter Nygard’s total disregard for the coastal environment has disfigured Simms Point, and it no longer retains its natural Bahamian beauty, plus a huge groin out into the water blocks public access to the beach/
“We understand from our client that Mrs Vicky McGrath could not stand it any longer, and the only way she could get away from this incredible destruction of nature was to sell her house for under market value.”
Tow other owners were also said to have put their homes up for sale as a result, and Mr Franklin added: “In frustration and anger, our client has put his house up for sale. Mr Cuomo wanted to retire here. Instead, he has given serious thought to pulling his investment out of the Bahamas ...
“As one European talks to another, news spreads, and people start to look for other destinations. Presently, our clients, as well as other Italians, are researching land investment opportunities in Cuba.”
Warning back in 1993 that Bahamians were also losing access to the shoreline, Mr Franklin concluded thus: “How many foreigners will continue to invest in expensive property if irresponsible people can build structures that will destroy other people’s treasured beachfront amenities?
“How much beach will be left where future Bahamians can stroll in the light of an evening sunset?”