DETAILS have emerged of a meeting between Perry Christie, Shane Gibson and Peter Nygard in a luxury suite in Las Vegas shortly before the 2012 election, again highlighting the close relationship between Progressive Liberal Party leaders and the controversial developer and raising fresh questions over the much-criticised stem cell legislation passed early in Mr Christie’s term.
The footage itself is subject to a court gag order which is currently being challenged, with Nygard attorneys insisting the material must remain secret. However, The Tribune has seen a letter, recently released for public access by the US courts, which describes the details of the videos.
Three of the exhibits are described as showing Mr Nygard “being interviewed about or otherwise discussing medical tourism in The Bahamas and the Bahamian government’s support of that effort”.
One of these, described as Exhibit 8, is said to show “Nygard meeting, five years ago, in advance of the 2012 Bahamian election with the [current] Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie, together with another Bahamian cabinet minister Shane Gibson and other attendees, in what appears to be a large hotel suite in the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, whose signage is clearly reflected outside the window”.
In documents filed with the court, Mr Nygard has admitted a June 19 meeting with officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, but alleged that certain details of the meeting had been “fabricated” and that construction of a multi-million dollar stem cell facility at his Lyford Cay home was never discussed.
For his part, Mr Christie attempted in August, 2015, to set the record straight over speculation that he met with Nygard privately to discuss the investor’s personal interest in stem cell research in The Bahamas.
“When I met with him it wasn’t Perry Christie and Nygard. It was Perry Christie, Nygard and scientists from the University of California. And the matter wasn’t what you could do for me, the matter was what can you do for the Bahamas.“
He failed to mention the location of this meeting, or say whether it occurred before the 2012 election.
Why Mr Christie and Mr Gibson, both opposition MPs at the time, would travel to Las Vegas with Mr Nygard remains unclear; as does the exact nature of the discussions with unnamed other parties concerning “medical tourism in the Bahamas and the Bahamian government’s support of that effort” as detailed in the description of the video.
Mr Nygard is an admitted major funder of the PLP and his interest in stem cell medical treatment is well known. He has proposed a mega health facility in The Bahamas.
In July, 2013, Mr Nygard insisted that the $5m donation he earlier admitted to giving was spent on stem cell research, denying that it went to finance the PLP’s 2012 election campaign.
Upon coming to office shortly after the video in question was filmed, the Christie administration was criticised for prioritising stem cell research legislation, with opposition members claiming this was done simply to appease Mr Nygard.
The Prime Minister vehemently denied this. However in October, 2015, during a radio interview, Mr Nygard claimed an intimate involvement in the legislation process, even asserting that he helped the government draft the Stem Cell Bill.
“We already have some of the property purchased and we are just waiting to get the climate properly over here,” he told Guardian Talk Show radio host Juan McCartney.
There is also a discrepancy concerning whether Mr Nygard ever made an application for a stem cell facility at his Nygard Cay home.
Documents in the public domain show that Nygard made an application to the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) for a proposed “medical facility”.
In March, 2016, Prime Minister Christie told the House of Assembly that Nygard “did not make an application” for the government to consider stem cells. He later clarified that the Ministry of Health had received no application, but failed to mention the BIA application.
However, according to the documents, which were previously obtained by Tribune Business and referred to by Mr Nygard in court filings, the fashion designer met with the Prime Minister’s senior policy advisor, Sir Baltron Bethel, just over a month after the 2012 general election to discuss his plan for his stem cell facility at Nygard Cay, which he wanted to bring in Chinese labourers to construct.
Those documents also show that in 2012, the government “determined that appropriate acreage should be leased to Mr Peter Nygard” so he could rebuild Nygard Cay and develop a stem cell facility as a part of what was termed a “touristic development” at Nygard Cay.
The letter describing the video is part of a discovery application in a New York court case regarding hundreds of hours of footage taken by Nygard’s former videographer Stephen Feralio. It is addressed to United State Southern District Court Judge Denise Cote, as part of an application by the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay and Louis Bacon seeking evidence for use in multiple cases in The Bahamas.
In an April 8, 2015 document Mr Nygard’s defence to Louis Bacon’s $50m ‘smear campaign’ lawsuit against him, alleged that his Lyford Cay neighbour was using his friendship with Mr Christie to imply that the Government was guilty of “illegal favouritism” towards him. Mr Nygard also repeated previous denials that he was seeking permission to construct a stem cell treatment facility at Nygard Cay, arguing that minutes of a June 2012 meeting between his team and the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) - purporting to show such plans - had been fabricated.
“These minutes purportedly showed that Mr Nygård was proposing to build a stem cell facility treatment on Nygård Cay, which would have been a boon to the medical tourism industry. Mr Nygård’s supposed intent was to curry preferential treatment by the Bahamian government,” the Canadian and his attorneys alleged.
In 2013, former FNM chairman Darron Cash took the government to task over its relationship with Mr Nygard and its relation to the stem cell legislation. He said: “Peter Nygard has taught the Christie government a valuable lesson. When the ‘John‘ has finished paying for ‘services’ rendered, he feels as if he owns you. It is clear for all to see that the Prime Minister has gone out of his way to serve the needs and interests of this self-proclaimed paymaster. And now that Nygard has paid for political services rendered, he feels he can say or do anything he feels like in our country. Thank you for that Prime Minister Christie!”