Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard has been arrested and charged in the US with racketeering and sex trafficking following an investigation by the FBI.
Mr Nygard, 79, who founded the Canadian women’s fashion company Nygard International in 1967, was arrested in Winnipeg on Monday and accused of trafficking dozens of women and girls over a 25-year period.
Elkan Abramowitz, a lawyer for Mr Nygard, declined to comment. Mr Nygard has in the past denied similar accusations and blamed them on a “smear campaign” by Louis Bacon, a billionaire hedge fund founder and his neighbour in the Bahamas.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement: “[Mr] Nygard used the Nygard Group’s influence, as well as its employees, funds and other resources, to recruit and maintain adult and minor-aged female victims for [his] sexual gratification and the sexual gratification of his friends and business associates.
“[Mr] Nygard and his co-conspirators, including Nygard Group employees, used force, fraud and coercion to cause women and minors to have sex with [him] and others.”
As of earlier this year Mr Nygard’s companies operated about 170 shops in North America and more than 6,000 concessions inside larger department stores. The company employed almost 1,500 people and owned brands including Peter Nygard Collections, Bianca Nygard and TanJay.
However, nine of his companies filed for bankruptcy protection in the US and Canada earlier this year after the allegations first surfaced.
Mr Bacon, who reportedly helped to fund a class-action lawsuit against Mr Nygard, told The New York Times earlier this year that he felt compelled to take action after hearing allegations of misconduct at his neighbouring property.
Fifty-seven women joined that lawsuit in the US, accusing Mr Nygard intimidating, bribing and forcing them into having sex. Two of the women alleged they were 14 years old at the time. That lawsuit was put on hold earlier this year while federal prosecutors investigated the allegations.
According to the indictment on Tuesday, prosecutors said Mr Nygard and his associates promised women modelling or fashion jobs to lure them into his orbit, throwing “pamper parties” for them that involved free food, drink and spa services.
They said Mr Nygard and his associates had used company money to pay for travel, living expenses, dental work, plastic surgery and abortions for their victims. They added that company employees and funds were used to threaten and corruptly persuade his victims to remain silent.
Mr Nygard appeared in a Winnipeg court on Tuesday afternoon for his first extradition hearing, where his lawyer pleaded unsuccessfully for the court proceedings to be kept secret, according to the Canadian broadcaster CBC. The next extradition hearing is scheduled for January 13.