By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Peter Nygard yesterday alleged that details of a June 2012 meeting with officials from the Prime Minister’s Office were “fabricated”, and that construction of a multi-million dollar stem cell facility at his Lyford Cay home was never discussed.
The Canadian fashion mogul’s US attorneys, in the latest instalment of his ongoing battle with Save the Bays and his Lyford Cay neighbour, also argued that access to the ‘minutes’ of such a meeting was “not permissible under Bahamian law”.
But, while admitting that the meeting with government officials on June 19, 2012, did occur, Mr Nygard said the recorded ‘minutes’ were also “highly inaccurate”.
And, while also conceding that stem cell research was discussed with Prime Minister Perry Christie’s top investment policy adviser, Mr Nygard said there was “no mention” of building such a facility at his Nygard Cay home.
The letter to the southern New York district court was Mr Nygard’s direct response to efforts by Save the Bays to seek video footage, possessed by a ‘whistleblower’, on his alleged efforts to construct a stem cell facility in the Bahamas.
Details of such plans are purportedly contained in the ‘minutes’ of the June 29, 2012, meeting between Mr Nygard and his team on one side, and Sir Baltron Bethel and then-permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, David Davis, on the other.
The minutes, which are already filed in the New York court, record Mr Nygard as saying he planned to invest $50 million at his Lyford Cay home, of which 50 per cent - some $25-$30 million - would finance a “medical/health spa facility”.
However, Mr Nygard’s US attorneys alleged: “Our client informs us the purported minutes are fabricated. Our client has never seen this document before, in connection with the Judicial Review actions or otherwise.
“Indeed, we understand from counsel in the Bahamas that access to minutes of such a meeting is not permissible under Bahamian law.
“According, to our client, the minutes are also highly inaccurate, including that while there was a discussion during this meeting regarding stem cell research, there was no mention of any facility being built at Nygard Cay.”
Aaron Marks, Mr Nygard’s US attorney, concluded that the ‘minutes’ of the Prime Minister’s Office meeting were “unreliable material”, and suggested their submission had been “perpetrated” by Save the Bays’ Bahamian attorneys.
The disputed ‘minutes’ certainly link Mr Nygard’s proposed medical/health spa to stem cell research and treatments, quoting the Canadian fashion mogul as saying the plan was to “introduce anti-aging, reversing treatments using stem cells”.
Tribune Business first obtained the ‘minutes’ in 2013, and wrote an article on Mr Nygard’s proposed plans in April that year. It was some time later that he denied seeking to construct a stem cell facility at his Lyford Cay home.
There is, though, some evidence to suggest that claims of a planned stem cell facility at Nygard Cay may not be so far-fetched.
A September 5, 2014, affidavit sworn by Michael Major, the director of physical planning, details a May 14, 2012, letter sent to the Prime Minister’s Office by Mr Nygard’s then-attorney, Melisa Hall.
Apart from a dredge permit and Crown Land lease of the seabed, the letter also applied for the Government’s permission to “further develop Nygard Cay by virtue of an investment in the amount of $50 million”.
That sum is exactly the same as the one stated in the June 19, 2012, minutes, of which $25-$30 million was earmarked for the medical/health spa facility. The balance was for reconstruction of those portions of Nygard Cay destroyed by far.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s letter from Mr Nygard’s attorneys did not sit well with Fred Smith QC, who accused them and their client of “pure gamesmanship”.
“I am surprised at the suggestion that the BIA minutes are not authentic,” Mr Smith told Tribune Business. “Given the context in which they first came out, it is a far-fetched and fantastic claim.”
Referring to Tribune Business’s April 2013 article on the alleged stem cell facility, Mr Smith also noted an August 3, 2012, memorandum from Richard Hardy, acting director of Lands and Surveys, indicating the Government was prepared to grant Mr Nygard his Crown Land lease.
The Callenders & Co partner then cited an October 2013 letter that Save the Bays sent to Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, seeking document discovery over its Nygard Cay-related Judicial Review action.
This letter, Mr Smith said, was also sent to both Mr Nygard and his then-attorney. As a result, he questioned why they “did not raise the alarm then and say it [the minutes] was not authentic”, or that Tribune Business’s article was “in any way false and misleading”.
Suggesting that Mr Nygard and his attorneys had been given ample time to respond, knowing that the alleged stem cell facility was part of the ‘discovery’ request, Mr Smith said of yesterday’s letter: “This is pure game smanship on the part of Mr Nygard and his attorneys.
“The Nygard camp should not play games with the public and the court, and they should make discovery of the relevant documents.
“Obviously, there was an intent to grant a lease of Crown Land in conjunction with the development of a touristic development and stem cell facility.”
However, Thomas Evans QC, Mr Nygard’s Bahamian attorney, last night refuted Mr Smith’s claim that his client was engaged in ‘gamesmanship’, or should have challenged the ‘stem cell facility’ claim when he received the October 2013 discovery request.
Reiterating that Mr Nygard only saw the ‘minutes’ for the first time when they were filed with the New York courts this week, Mr Evans said his client did not possess them - and was also unable to access them until now.
Mr Evans said that as a “high level document”, intended for the Prime Minister and Cabinet, it would have “public interest immunity” and be governed by the Official Secrets Act.
“It’s not something that Mr Nygard had access to, had custody of or would be able to request,” Mr Evans said of the ‘minutes. “Therefore, there would have been no obligation on Mr Nygard to produce it.”
Mr Smith, though, said Save the Bays had repeatedly challenged the consultation process over the Nygard permits because of “the continued failure of government and Mr Nygard to make full disclosure of all relevant papers”.
Mr Nygard’s attorneys, meanwhile, said it was “absurd” to broaden discovery in relation to the video footage Save the Bays is seeking to donations to political parties.
And they also slammed as “a fishing expedition” the advocacy group’s desire to see if any Bahamian government officials are pictured enjoying events at Nygard Cay.