Bahamians are grappling with new and disturbing allegations, which have come in waves over the past few weeks, involving Canadian fashion designer Peter Nygard and his former neighbour, Louis Bacon, who both once lived in an exclusive gated community on the western tip of this Caribbean island.
The two wealthy men have been feuding in the courts for more than a decade. It started as a simple property dispute, and escalated into an all-out legal war.
The latest wave came Sunday in the form of an investigative report from the New York Times, which reported more than two dozen women have made allegations of rape or sexual misconduct against Nygard over the past 40 years.
Many of them were young Bahamian women.
Nygard has never been convicted of a crime involving sexual misconduct.
The Times also reported that two local women, who initially said they were raped, have now changed their story, claiming they were paid to lie.
CBC News has not independently verified these allegations.
The Times article follows a civil class-action lawsuit launched last week by a New York law firm, involving 10 women who claim they were raped by Nygard.
Those allegations haven’t been proven in court.
The backdrop to the latest allegations against Nygard, 78, is a years-old dispute between him and Bacon, his former neighbour here. The two men once owned side-by-side estates.
It escalated when Nygard wanted to rebuild his home after a fire. Bacon, a retired New York-based billionaire hedge fund manager, tried to block him alleging environmental concerns.
Rev. C.B. Moss, a local church leader, environmentalist and well-known critic of Nygard, said Bahamians have witnessed the dispute between the two men play out for years.
“The backdrop is two non-Bahamians living in an exclusive area apparently … at odds with each other,” Moss told CBC News in an interview outside his church on Sunday.
“If these incidents did occur over a period of time it was a well kept secret … People are still trying to come to grips with it.”
Nygard continues to deny all of the allegations, claiming they are part of a smear campaign by Bacon.
“Peter Nygard has fought off allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him over the past decade by opportunistic women intending to feed off a billionaire benefactor, Louis Bacon, and capitalize on the #MeToo movement to intimidate and extort Mr. Nygard into also paying them,” said a statement issued by his spokesperson Sunday.
“The New York Times, after investigating Mr. Nygard for more than one year, has apparently arrived at the same conclusion — that women were tampered with, coerced and paid to assert false allegations against Mr. Nygard.”
The statement said Nygard has already made a request to have the civil class-action lawsuit dismissed for these reasons.
Bacon issued his own statement Sunday.
“I admire the brave women who had the courage to share their stories with The New York Times,” he said.
“I was not looking for this fight, but once I heard repeated, credible reports from disgusted whistleblowers that Mr. Nygard was abusing young, vulnerable women, I could not ignore this disturbing information.”
Bacon’s statement said the allegations should now be investigated by law enforcement.
‘Our failings as a nation’
The allegations have sparked front page headlines and editorials in the Bahamas in recent weeks.
One editorial in The Bahamas Tribune concluded the New York class-action suit filed againt Nygard “shows our failings as a nation.”
It urged the government to investigate the claims made in the lawsuit.
“Peter Nygard’s story — if proved to be true — is one that will shock and appall with the nature of the alleged offences,” the newspaper wrote.
“But it will be even worse if we allow these claims to play out in New York while sitting here doing nothing, pretending it’s nothing to do with us. It’s time to act.”
The police in the Bahamas have said they are investigating allegations against Nygard, which were first reported to them in July, 2019.
More recently, there has also been a promise from the country’s government to investigate claims that police officers and politicians were bribed by Nygard.
The New York class-action lawsuit alleges Nygard paid officials to keep his crimes a secret.
Marvin Dames is the National Security Minister in the Bahamas.
“Those are some serious allegations being made and I am certain the police would want to follow up on them to determine exactly whether there is any validity to them,” Dames told the Bahamas Tribune.
“Anytime you have allegations of that nature being reported to law enforcement within or outside of the country, we have that obligation especially when the allegations are being made against public officials and law enforcement officials.”