National Review

Lessons to learn from Nygard’s rotten ties with PLP

A recently aired explosive documentary by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) “Fifth Estate” on the disgraced Finnish-born (now former) fashion mogul Peter Nygard resurrected questions about his connections to the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and its leaders and brought some embarrassment and stain to the country’s reputation — but how prominently is the Nygard/PLP affair likely to feature in the quickly approaching election season?

We say, not very.

Last month, Nygard was indicted in New York on multiple charges of sex trafficking, racketeering and other crimes.

The charges allegedly stem from “a decades-long pattern of criminal conduct involving at least dozens of victims in the United States, The Bahamas, and Canada, among other locations”.

The Fifth Estate documentary contains interviews with individuals claiming they witnessed Nygard’s sexual exploitation of women at his expansive estate at Lyford Cay, and claiming he was protected by powerful Bahamian authorities.

Former Prime Minister Perry Christie has said in response to inquiries by CBC on the matter, “I have no fear of any investigation into my conduct in my public life. Full stop.”

PLP Leader Philip Brave Davis told reporters this past Sunday that while he was in government no criminal complaint was ever made against Nygard in The Bahamas. 

When asked if he was worried about how the party’s connection to Nygard would affect the PLP in the upcoming election, Davis replied, “No, that’s the past.”

He said all engagement with Nygard had appeared “proper”.

Anyone who has been paying attention to events on the national political landscape in recent years, knows that the PLP’s rotten ties to Nygard have sullied the party’s brand and undoubtedly contributed to the widespread perception that the Christie administration provided cover for the Lyford Cay resident who once proclaimed that he had donated more money to the PLP than anyone else.

Who could forget in 2013 when Nygard’s “Take back The Bahamas” video circulated widely? The video showed his flamboyant frolicking with then government ministers who went to Nygard Cay to kiss his ring. It was an uncomfortable and embarrassing moment for many Bahamians.

The video showed Nygard celebrating the PLP’s 2012 general election win while watching Perry Christie’s victory rally address. Nygard infamously proclaimed, “Yes. We got our country back.”

In another video, Nygard bizarrely claimed, “I have been dedicated to this country more than any single person in this whole country. There’s testimonial after testimonial.”

One of the ministers who had visited Nygard Cay, V. Alfred Gray, later publicly declared, “Mr. Nygard is a Bahamian. He is a philanthropist and I think he has given more to this country than many other Bahamians, including those who criticize him.”

Nygard is a permanent resident, not a Bahamian.

Asked about Nygard’s claim about his political donations to the PLP, then PM Christie said that because donors expect anonymity, it was not for him to say who donated to his campaign and how much. 

Amidst controversy over the stem cell legislation passed under the Christie administration (which FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis had claimed was as a favor to Nygard, a great believer in stem cell therapy), Nygard visited Grand Bahama and was given a hero’s welcome upon landing with then Grand Bahama Minister Dr. Michael Darville in attendance.

While there is no evidence that the Christie administration or the Royal Bahamas Police Force covered up any criminal complaint against the PLP’s bosom buddy, Nygard, it is clear that Nygard was among the cosiest of permanent residents for the PLP government.

In the lead up to the last general election, the Free National Movement (FNM) played this up big.

In 2013, Minnis was ousted from Parliament after he refused to withdraw comments he made about Christie’s relationship with Nygard.

He insisted after being ousted that day, “The association of the prime minister and a number of his Cabinet colleagues with Peter Nygard has been judged by many as being most unseemly and outrageously inappropriate. I continue to believe that the cozy relationship between Mr. Christie, his government and Mr. Nygard is unhealthy for our democracy.” 

Last February, Minnis used a suit filed against Nygard alleging illicit acts against underage girls and women and his alleged corruption of Bahamian officials as one reason why voters should again reject the PLP.

“All I can see in the local and international press was a serious story about a rich foreigner and the PLP,” he said.

“This scandal may become one of the lowest moments in the PLP’s history. And let me say that the allegations made in this scandal are shocking and disgusting.”

Minnis said no matter how much the PLP says it has changed, it gets into scandals.

The recent indictment against Nygard has resulted in a new round of finger pointing with the FNM seeking to maximize political points.

It said in a statement, “The extent of Nygard’s hold on the party’s elites revealed in the CBC special was breathtaking, lending credence to reports that Nygard felt and acted above the law because his ties to the PLP government shielded him.”

The FNM claimed Bahamians want to know how deep Davis’ ties are to Nygard.

In turn, the PLP has accused the FNM of whipping a dead horse and dismissed this issue as a distraction.

“In light of the abject failure of this FNM government and the mass suffering caused, their demonstrated desperation and stupidity to lie and deflect just to hang onto power know no bounds,” the PLP said in a statement.

The PLP called on the FNM to confess that its campaign received $75,000 from Nygard.

“Philip Brave Davis and the PLP have nothing to do with Peter Nygard save in the nasty and sick imagination of the idiots that chair and lead the FNM,” the opposition party said.

Our view

Our view is that the recent Nygard documentary and indictment have rubbed the skin and nerves of our people internally, but it does not appear likely that the country will suffer any huge reputational damage from events that continue to play out with a character whose presence on the national scene will not be missed.

We say good riddance to Peter Nygard.

We hope that the alleged victims get justice.

We also view the whole deeply disturbing affair with Nygard and his questionable dealings and reported influence over our elected officials as an important lesson for national leaders moving ahead.

Nygard became a cancer that grew in our country over many years.

Many in the PLP appeared enamored by the wealthy foreigner. They did not condemn him when he made inappropriate political statements that circulated widely.

That is obviously because his comment about being a financial backer of the PLP was true.

Bahamians won’t soon forget the revelation on the eve of the last election that Nygard was making direct payments of US$5,000 per month into the Bank of America account of Golden Gates MP Shane Gibson prior to the 2012 general election and into 2013 when he was a minister. 

Gibson claimed the payments were made for constituency projects.

Collecting money from Nygard or from anyone else for a political campaign is not a crime in The Bahamas, but this years-long sordid saga underscores the need for some kind of regulation of donations — something promised by both Christie and Minnis, but which has yet to become reality.

While the FNM might get some satisfaction in any further smear being caused to the PLP, it should also understand that as this plays in international circles, no one is likely making any distinction between the PLP and the FNM. It is the government of The Bahamas and the police force that is getting a black eye.

In the same token, if the FNM wants to continue to talk about Nygard supposedly having had PLPs in his pocket, it too should say whether any of its members accepted any campaign money from him.

The FNM will likely continue raising the Nygard issue as the next election nears, but we believe that unless there is some damning evidence that surfaces, implicating any current senior PLP, it is unlikely that this will resonate on the campaign trail.

We believe what voters care about more than ever, is not Nygard or any damage to our good name as a country, but about the state of our economy and their personal financial circumstances.

Many are already checked out from the FNM. They have already decided that come Election Day, they will punish Minnis and the FNM for failing to deliver for them.

The FNM administration has had some hard luck this term — Dorian and COVID-19 would have presented unprecedented challenges no matter who was in office, but as we said last week, those crises met the Minnis administration with trust already substantially eroded and goodwill already significantly depleted.

Voters do not like scandals, but many feel they have already punished the Christie administration for such.

The FNM has heavy lifting to do. Continuing to resurrect the Nygard bogeyman will likely have no impact on what voters choose to do.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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