Disgraced multimillionaire Peter Nygard went on trial in Toronto on Tuesday accused of using his power and status as a wealthy fashion designer to sexually assault five young women in allegations spanning decades.
Nygard, the 82-year-old founder of one of Canada’s largest clothing brands, Nygard International, has pleaded not guilty to five charges of sexual assault and one of forcible confinement in the trial — the first of several he faces in Canada and the United States.
The claims have seen the Finnish-Canadian likened to the late Jeffrey Epstein, the US financier who killed himself in 2019 as he awaited trial for sex crimes.
In opening remarks, prosecutor Ana Serban accused Nygard of having used his “power and status as a wealthy fashion designer to lure and sexually assault young women.”
She described his victims as shaking with fright, crying, being forced into sex acts and raped — and threatened with career destruction if they did not submit.
Four in their 20s and one just 16 years old, they met Nygard on flights or at clubs and were offered jobs or “tours” as a pretense to get them to his Toronto offices.
There, “behind all the trappings of success and power, there’s a bedroom suite with a giant bed… and a bar and doors, doors with no handles and automatic locks controlled by Peter Nygard,” Serban said.
Nygard allegedly chased his “trapped” victims around the suite, and tackled and pinned them before ripping off their clothes, ignoring their pleas to stop.
A contractor who renovated the space and a police investigator described in testimony the posh and secure layout that “requires a key code” to access.
Prosecutors said the allegations date back to the 1980s.
Nygard, who has been held in prison since his arrest in 2020, faces similar charges in Quebec and Manitoba, as well as extradition to the United States, where he has been accused of raping dozens of women and girls, racketeering and trafficking.
Once seen as a flamboyant fashionista, in his heyday Nygard dined with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and rubbed shoulders with senior lawmakers and Hollywood stars.
He rolled into court in a wheelchair on Tuesday a diminished man, his once flowing blonde mane turned gray and pulled back in a bun, and his previously tanned complexion faded to a ghostly pale.
– ‘Pamper parties’ –
Once reported to be worth over Can$850 million (US$630 million), according to Canadian Business magazine, Nygard has long boasted about his rise from humble beginnings, as a young immigrant who built a fashion empire with nearly 170 stores at its peak.
His company, however, filed for bankruptcy protection shortly after the FBI and police raided his Manhattan corporate headquarters in 2020.
In the United States, he has been accused by dozens of women and girls of grooming and luring them to his luxury estates, including in the Bahamas, on the pretense of lucrative modeling opportunities.
Many were from disadvantaged economic backgrounds or had histories of abuse.
American prosecutors allege he used company funds to host dinner parties, poker games and so-called “pamper parties” where minor girls were drugged and women assaulted if they did not comply with his sexual demands.
They have also claimed he paid from corporate accounts for victims’ plastic surgery, abortions and child support.
A behind-the-scenes video shot by a whistleblower who spent three years documenting Nygard showed him flirting with a 16-year-old girl at the 2012 London Olympics, and a 17-year-old dancing on a stripper pole on Nygard’s private Boeing 727 plane.
“Nygard would just come down and choose a girl. Usually they would be drunk,” Stephen Feralio, who’d been hired as Nygard’s personal videographer, told public broadcaster CBC in 2021.
Nygard has agreed to US extradition but must first face his Canadian accusers.
His Toronto trial is scheduled to last at least six weeks. He is then due to face another trial in Quebec next year. (AFP)