By LARRY SMITH
THE complex controversy swirling around Peter Nygard appears to have bewildered most Bahamians. And our government has deliberately contributed to this confusion. This fact sheet will help readers understand what is going on and what is at stake.
Who is Peter Nygard?
Born in Finland in 1943, he moved to Canada as a child. In 1967 he bought a share in a women’s clothing company and is now among the 100 richest Canadians.
Why is he in The Bahamas?
In 1984, Nygard bought 3.25 acres at Simms Point, on the western tip of Lyford Cay, and built a second home there.
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing. But over the years he transformed the house into a 250,000-square-foot, unlicensed party resort, upsetting his residential neighbours. He rented out to wealthy vacationers for more than $42,000 a night – until the place was damaged by fire in 2009. To accommodate these activities, Nygard doubled the size of his property by dredging the bay and filling the rocky shoreline with sand - without government approval. In fact, dredge pumps have been used almost continuously for years, to move sand from the bay onto Nygard’s property. The additional three acres of accreted land are valued in the millions.
Is that just talk?
No. High-level government documents confirm that Nygard’s development had “no Bahamian character” and would not have been approved by the Ministry of Works. The documents say he “abused” Bahamian laws and was operating an “unlicensed hotel” on “Crown seabed”.
Is that the only issue Nygard is involved in?
No. In recent years he developed a fascination for anti-aging research involving experimental stem cell treatment, which he claims could “produce immortality”. In an online video, Nygard is shown injecting himself with a presumed stem cell formulation as he quips to awed onlookers: “Ah, it feels so good, and you can see it’s working”.
Why are these issues so controversial?
It’s an open secret that Nygard contributed millions to the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) election campaign. The quid pro quo seems to have been regularisation of his long-term, unlawful activities at Simms Point, and approval of a “stem cell institute” on his property.
Were Nygard’s unlawful activities at Simms Point regularised?
In effect, yes. The Christie administration has not forced the removal of any illegal structures from Crown land at Simms Point, and has not prevented Nygard dredging and filling to expand his property. High-level documents show that the Christie government agreed early on to accommodate Nygard, and has avoided taking any action against him.
What about Nygard’s stem cell “institute”?
High-level documents show that Nygard made a proposal to cabinet for such a facility right after the election. According to the late Dr Arthur Porter, who advised the government on stem cell matters, Nygard pushed Christie to authorise stem cell treatments. In his 2014 memoir Porter said Nygard wanted to approve all Bahamian stem cell regulations: “He would be judge, jury and executioner.”
Did this happen?
No. The Prime Minister followed Porter’s advice, and a properly constituted medical task force was set up to oversee the development of stem cell legislation, which was enacted in 2013. Immediately after the 2012 election, Nygard was still talking about investing in a stem cell facility here. However, the current status of the proposal is unknown.
Who is Louis Bacon?
Bacon is a wealthy American investment fund manager who has been Nygard’s closest neighbour in Lyford Cay since 1993. He is well known for his support of environmental and other worthy causes in both the US and the Bahamas. Bacon was one of the main backers of the movement to prevent the development of Clifton Bay as a gated community in the late 1990s. That fight played a large role in the PLP’s 2002 election victory, and led to the creation of the Clifton Heritage Park during the first Christie administration. Bacon has acknowledged donations over the years to the PLP and Free National Movement (FNM), as well as a range of Bahamian charities.
Why are Bacon and Nygard feuding?
They are next-door neighbours. Bacon and many others at Lyford Cay object to the disruptive commercial activities taking place on Nygard’s property. Their increasingly bitter dispute led Bacon to transfer management of his investment funds back to the United States and to avoid spending time here.
What is Save The Bays?
A non-profit environmental group formed in 2013 to support policy change, education and advocacy in the Bahamas. It evolved from an earlier group formed to prevent the development of Clifton Bay. Issues that Save The Bays (STB) has addressed include oil spills, unregulated development, environmental legislation, and freedom of information. Bacon is both a director and backer.
What’s all this about hate rallies?
In 2014 and early 2015 thousands of Bahamians staged demonstrations in downtown Nassau targeting Bacon and other directors of STB. They wore Ku Klux Klan uniforms, and held placards accusing Bacon of being a white supremacist. They also branded STB lawyer Fred Smith as “a Haitian infidel” and Rev C B Moss as “a terrorist and a slave”.
Did those targeted complain to the police?
Yes. Written complaints were lodged alleging that the demonstrations amounted to “criminal threats, intimidation and harassment”. There was no response, despite follow-ups.
What happened next?
Last month, a civil action on behalf of STB directors was filed in the Supreme Court against Nygard and his Bahamian lawyer Keod Smith.
What did the lawsuit say?
It alleges “a concerted campaign to injure, cause harm to, cause damage, terrify and intimidate ... by various means, including a plot to murder Frederick Smith and Louis Bacon, violent assaults, hate rallies and other intimidatory tactics”. The lawsuit seeks damages, as well as a permanent injunction restraining Nygard and Smith from further threats, harassment or intimidation.
What are these allegations based on?
They rely on information obtained in a sting operation conducted by private investigators and involving two convicted criminals - Livingstone Bullard and Wisla Davila (also known as Toggie and Bobo). According to court documents filed by STB, Bullard and Davilma are gangsters who claimed Nygard gave them a “hit list” of people to murder or “send a message” to.
So what happened in the House of Assembly?
After the lawsuit was filed, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald jumped to Nygard’s defence. He accused Save The Bays of seeking to “destabilise” the government, using money from Louis Bacon. He claimed it was a “hustle” to entrap Nygard. Fitzgerald also read from STB emails to support his claims, which launched a new controversy over privacy issues. Fitzgerald first said he obtained the emails with the help of “friends in the US”, but later suggested they were provided locally by an anonymous source.
Did the STB lawsuit attack the government?
No. But supporting documents (including secretly recorded videos) show Nygard talking about the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister with Toggie and Bobo, who claim to be speaking on behalf of Brave Davis.
What about the FNM?
Fitzgerald disclosed emails referencing FNM Chairman Michael Pintard in connection with Toggie and Bobo. It was Pintard who first alerted STB to the intimidation plot, in his private capacity as an advisor to Callenders & Co attorney Fred Smith. Pintard later resigned as chairman to avoid being used as a distraction. Dr Hubert Minnis, FNM leader, surprisingly acknowledged that he too had met with Toggie, who was a resident in his Killarney constituency. Minnis said Toggie had told him Pintard was being set up by a high-ranking government member.
Who else met with Toggie and Bobo?
Apparently, almost everyone. According to court documents, the two gangsters had government contracts worth $132,000 per year, controlled by Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis. It is also alleged they were paid “$40,000” by Nygard to give evidence that he used to file a countersuit. Court documents also allege that Davis and Nygard were involved in a scheme to entrap Michael Pintard using Toggie and Bobo.
Any reasonable person reading the above will conclude that this convoluted controversy has its origins in the actions of one man – Peter Nygard.
It is the government’s responsibility to clear up this mess for the good order of the country. So the question must be asked: why is the Christie administration seemingly working flat out to protect and defend Peter Nygard?
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