Imprisoned Peter Nygård Faces Record-breaking $203 Million Defamation Decision

A long drawn-out legal battle between hedge fund billionaire Louis Bacon and alleged sex offender Peter Nygård appears to have come to a close with the largest defamation award in New York’s history — $203 million in damages to Bacon, awarded Monday.

With neighboring oceanfront properties in the tony enclave of Lyford Cay in the Bahamas, the men squared off acrimoniously for years. The battling neighbors first took legal action about their dispute in 2010. As more lawsuits, countersuits and appeals followed, the executive showdown created a flurry of media reports, documentaries and magazine articles.

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In December 2020, the founder of his namesake clothing label was arrested and charged with racketeering and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, alleging decades of crimes against dozens of victims in the U.S., the Bahamas and Canada. The fashion mogul remains imprisoned in a Toronto jail, where he awaits extradition to the U.S. for alleged sexual misconduct and other chargers.

The nine-count indictment also includes charges of transportation of a minor for purpose of prostitution, and allegations that Nygård and some of his associates targeted victims — some of which were young and disadvantaged — with promises of potential employment, modeling opportunities and “pamper parties,” where free alcohol, food and spa services were offered at Nygård’s properties in Marina del Ray, California, and in the Bahamas.

Jay Prober, an attorney for Nygård, declined to comment Tuesday afternoon about the landmark defamation decision. Another lawyer for Nygård, Brian Greenspan, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday about any possibilities of an appeal.

Earlier this year, attorneys for Nygård asked the Manitoba Court of Appeal to stop an order made by Canada’s justice minister to surrender the former fashion executive to the U.S. A media request to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan was not immediately returned Tuesday.

In Toronto, he faces nine counts of sexual assault and three counts of forcible confinement that span allegations from the late ’80s to the mid-2000s. In addition, Nygård faces one count of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement in Quebec that allegedly impacted one person from November 1997 to November 1998.

Born in frosty, rural Finland, where his family home was said to not have modern plumbing, Nygård later relocated to Canada, where he built his signature middle-of-the-road fashion label from the ground up. In the process, Nygård became one of the country’s wealthiest entrepreneurs. An unabashed media hound and self promoter, Nygård grasped the power of moniker branding and celebrity culture years before other major brands did. He hosted Michael Jackson, Robert De Niro and Oprah Winfrey, among other luminaries, at personal events. In 2000, Prince Andrew, his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson and their daughters visited the estate-like property in the Bahamas, which took 14 years to build and featured a shark tank, climbing wall and translucent dance floor.

In addition, Nygård was an early adapter to going paperless, vertical manufacturing, automated replenishment, e-commerce, home shopping, concept shops with major retailers like Dillard’s, and the in-store appeal of digital features such as monitors playing fashion show videos. Long before Kim Kardashian hatched her body-shaping label Skims, Nygård debuted the figure-flattering Nygard Slims in 2014.

He reportedly amassed a personal fortune of $490 million in 2002 — a figure that he did not challenge in an interview with WWD at that time. The ever-bronzed Nygård also developed a $250 million business in Canada and a $250 million business in the U.S. about 20 years ago, in addition to 200 freestanding stores. The way he saw it, “In this world, you have to learn three things. You have to learn how to make money and I’ve learned that. You have to learn how to keep it, which I’m doing, and you have to learn how to spend it.”

Nygård’s office opening is announced on a Times Square billboard in 2005.
Nygård’s office opening is announced on a Times Square billboard in 2005.

The latest ruling is a setback for Nygård. After Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and New York City Police Department officials raided his multifloor Manhattan offices in February 2020 in relation to the domestic sex trafficking case, the executive’s downfall accelerated. Already beleaguered by the rise of fast fashion, Nygård’s business lost its last key U.S. distribution channel — Dillard’s — as a result.

The court decision in the Bacon case highlighted how the defamation included false claims that “Bacon was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and believer in white supremacy; that as a financial services provider, he was guilty of insider trading; that he was implicated in the death of an employee and family friend at his Bahamas property, and that he was implicated in arson. Any one of these would have been a significant assault on his character; the combination of all depicted him as an evildoer of the highest order. The effects were compounded by the almost decade-long duration of the smears and the global and multimedia distribution they were given, which included a rally in the Bahamas at which participants wore T-shirts and held signs proclaiming the plaintiff’s alleged racism.”

Nygård “disseminated hundreds of false statements about Mr. Bacon through every medium imaginable including the internet, YouTube videos, radio, newspapers, pamphlets, social media, marches and demonstrations and email lists. His campaign was completely unprecedented in its length, the number and horrific nature of the statements, the amount of time, the geographic scope and, most importantly, Mr. Nygård’s explicit and unequivocal intent to destroy Mr. Bacon. There were more than two dozen Nygård-paid participants including a well-known West Coast public relations firm, media professionals, graphic artists, gang members who organized hate rallies, radio show personalities and others in a group that created and continually populated over 40 autonomous websites,” according to the issued statement.

In response to the court ruling, Bacon said in a statement: “With this verdict, Mr. Bacon is vindicated from the vicious lies and disgusting smear campaign against him, and Mr. Nygård has finally been held accountable for at least some of his actions. It is well documented that Mr. Nygård is a serial abuser of the law and of the environment and further accountability awaits Mr. Nygård in the courts of Canada and the United States, where he will stand trial on numerous criminal and civil charges of perpetrating atrocious acts against women.”

It read in closing: “We are grateful to the court for holding Mr. Nygård accountable for his campaign of malevolent lies and demonstrating through a historic damages award of $203 million that the truth matters.”

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