By DAVID MORGAN
I’m sure there’s many out there who feel like shouting Good Riddance to Peter Nygard now that he faces allegations of drugging and raping dozens of women, many under age.
But long before life behind the gates of Nygard Cay reached the courts of New York, there were many who had private concerns. If what is reported in a fascinating book called The Man Behind the Bow Tie published in 2014 is true - and we have no reason to believe it is not - one of the first to distance himself was former Prime Minister Perry Christie, odd though it seems given the irrefutable evidence that Mr Nygard himself credited the Prime Minister’s and PLP election sweep in 2012 to his election “donation” of $5 million.
In fact, Mr Nygard was so proud of drawing the political map for the coming five years that when a story appeared about his “$4 millon” contribution to the PLP, he quickly produced a copy of the cheque, boasting it was $5 million. Without any limits on what anyone can contribute and no campaign finance legislation to act as safeguards against buying the government you want, what Mr Nygard did was perfectly legal. We will never know whether it tipped the coffers in the PLP’s favour or whether an always impatient electorate was at the tipping point with the Hubert Ingraham government they ousted, the Free National Movement.
The Bahamian population is loyal when it comes to individual friendships but fickle when it comes to what kind of government it wants since it expects government to do everything to make life easier, better, cheaper and when it doesn’t get what it wants, because the expectations are unrealistic, it switches to the next party in the line-up.
Nevertheless, whether the populace would have voted Christie and the PLP in 2012 without Mr Nygard’s $5 million is something we will never know. Just as we will never know how many $100 or $300 gifts were rolled up in t-shirts given out at PLP rallies prior to the election.
Politics is dirty throughout the world. In The Bahamas, it just comes with refreshments. Rallies become open invitations to parties and party-goers change shirts to enjoy the open-air entertainment, food, dance and a free (or paid) night on the town. Bahamians, in our own way, have turned what could be a boring political call to action into a rousing night of fun and for that we can pat ourselves on our fickle backs. No one does politics quite like Bahamians.
That being said, the PLP with Mr Nygard’s help, swept into office in May 2012, as much to the party leader’s surprise as anyone’s. So you would think that Mr Christie would have kissed the ground Mr Nygard trod on or at least shown him gratitude by immediately passing the legislation Mr Nygard wanted that would have provided a cozy and lucrative home for his stem cell interests.
Instead, Mr Christie, as astute as he was indecisive and unlike certain others in his party, began to distance himself from Mr Nygard almost from the moment he was elected. This was confirmed by sources close to the former PM who said Mr Nygard would often appear in the office, unannounced, without an appointment, demanding to see Mr Christie who would keep him waiting far longer than he would a jitney driver with a complaint about routes. Other sources have told us Mr Christie declined invitations to Nygard Cay, the property at the southwest tip of New Providence he renamed from Simms Point. Word around the office of the prime minister was - “no favours”.
But the most telling tale of Mr Christie’s apparent desire to separate himself from the man who helped get him elected comes in the book by the late Dr Arthur Porter, confidante and political and medical advisor to the former PM.
Dr Porter, the former head of Canadian Security Intelligence, and one of the most respected businessmen and physicians in Canada, a man who dined with kings and presidents, died of lung cancer in a Panama prison, still fighting charges of fraud related to the construction of a large medical facility at McGill, where Dr Porter was the project head. Dr Porter had relocated to The Bahamas to work with Dr Conville Brown opening The Cancer Centre. With his wife and four children, he enjoyed his home in Old Fort Bay and his newfound friendship with Perry Christie, a man he truly liked without being ignorant of his inability to make decisions.
We quote with permission from the book, The Man Behind The Bow Tie which was a #1 Amazon bestseller the day of its publication in Canada with a reprint order the same day. In Dr Porter’s words:
“On the day before the election, Christie looked awful. I sat beside him in his living room with a few other supporters. He was slumped on the couch in a yellow PLP shirt, eyes reduced to slits, half-listening to the last-minute advice being fired at him from all angles. Morale was low. Most people did not think he would win, let alone by a comfortable margin.”
Mr Christie and the PLP did win by a two-thirds majority, a result that seemed to take the country by surprise.
One week later, Mr Christie asked Porter his advice. Nygard had invited him to Nygard Cay. Should he go? “You are the prime minister now,” Porter said. “So what if he donated large sums of money to your campaign? It would not look good to go to his home.”
Dr Porter recommended he invite Mr Nygard to his office instead. The meeting that followed, according to the retelling of it in the book, did not go well. Nor was it exactly in the Office of the Prime Minister, or OPM as it is often called with an air of dignity. Much to Mr Nygard’s displeasure, it was in what he termed as a basement.
Again, from the book: “Peter Nygard, one of the wealthiest men in Canada, sat across from me (Porter) at a small table, the two of us tucked away beyond prying eyes or cocked ears, in a remote meeting room on the lower level of the Bahamas Sheraton Beach Resort awaiting the prime minister of the Bahamas. Nygard’s long, flowing greyish-blond hair hung well below his shoulders. His white shirt was unbuttoned halfway down his chest. He wore loose-fitting pants and slip-on shoes with no socks. Normally relaxed, talkative and gregarious with a wide crinkly smile, at this moment the multi-millionaire fashion mogul was furious. Things were not going his way. Hot, flustered and impatient, he bounced an ankle on one knee, mumbling about broken promises. Nygard and I were not alone…”
Dr Porter mentions others in the room, including Joy Jibrilu, at that time Director of Investments in the OPM, and Kevin Klein, another Canadian and “one of the top executives at Nygard Biotech, “a new company focused on regenerative and stem cell therapies”.
According to Dr Porter, Mr Nygard’s anger was turning to fury as his impatience with being kept waiting grew.
“Suddenly, a huge bodyguard opened the door and Prime Minister Perry Christie swept into the room, elegantly attired as always in a formal pinstriped suit. We all rose and he shook our hands. Nygard was not interested in ceremony.
“Why do you have me stashed in here, Perry?” he barked.
Christie explained he had to deliver a speech at the hotel, avoided eye contact with Mr Nygard, pulled out two cell phones and appeared distracted, turning to Dr Porter and asking “Where are we with things, Arthur?”
Previously, Dr Porter had counselled him to go slowly and carefully with stem cell legislation – it was too important to take a risk and get it wrong and the opportunity existed for The Bahamas to be a leader in the field if it did it right.
Nygard burst in before Dr Porter could answer Mr Christie’s question.
“Do you intend on honouring our arrangement?” Nygard blurted out. The prime minister began to speak, assuring him then adding the word, but.
“Before the election,” Nygard snapped, “we spoke about the stem cell bill being the first piece of legislation before the House of Assembly. Not the third. Not the second. The first. We are a week in, and I have heard nothing. You haven’t taken my phone calls. I got a call back from one of your assistants. And now, instead of coming to my house, you have us meeting in some basement…”
It has been eight years since that meeting took place and today Nygard Cay is all but abandoned. The courts have ordered him to restore the coastline as he found it. He has been held in contempt of court and fined. Nygard Slims, the store he opened in the Mall at Marathon, is vacant. And now it is likely that he will spend his remaining days fighting charges of sexual abuse and the man who once strode through Bain and Grant’s Town surrounded by law enforcement, some on his payroll on the side, shouting “Take Back The Bahamas” may live to wish he had never come here in the first place.