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NYTimes
New York Times
21 Oct 2023
Vjosa Isai


NextImg:Women Testify That Fashion Mogul Lured Them to ‘Sordid’ Bedroom

The five women testifying that the Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard sexually assaulted them described for jurors over the past four weeks how they ended up in the hidden bedroom suite at his office.

Decades ago, they said, they each accepted Mr. Nygard’s invitation to visit the stylish Toronto headquarters of his fashion kingdom, Nygard International. He was an eager tour guide, they testified, showing off a high-end car in the garage as well as a glistening showroom. But, they said, he was most excited about bringing guests upstairs to the wood-paneled bedroom suite, fitted with a fireplace, a stone Jacuzzi, a stocked bar and a large bed.

It was behind the sliding doors of that room, which Mr. Nygard could operate and lock from a keypad on the nightstand, that each of the women said he sexually assaulted them.

“I was a prisoner in that room,” said one woman, the last of five complainants to conclude her testimony at a Toronto courthouse this week as prosecutors prepare to close their case. “The door sliding open is seared in my psyche,” she later added.

The five women, who were between 16 and 28 years old at the time of the alleged attacks, are the central witnesses in the case against Mr. Nygard, who is facing charges of sexual assault and forcible confinement in the Toronto trial, which began on Sept. 26. He has repeatedly denied the accusations in statements from his legal team and pleaded not guilty to the charges. (The women’s names are concealed by a court-ordered publication ban to protect victims of sexual assault.)

The trial is the beginning of what could be years of criminal proceedings for Mr. Nygard, now 82 and in declining health, his lawyers said. He also faces sexual assault charges in New York, where he will be extradited once the cases in Toronto, Montreal and his hometown, Winnipeg, are complete.

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Peter Nygard arriving at a courthouse in Toronto this month.Credit...Cole Burston/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

The charges represent a dramatic reversal of fortune for a man who was once hailed as a rags-to-riches success, and they have unraveled Mr. Nygard’s decades-long effort — the subject of a Times investigation — to quash sexual assault allegations lodged against him in civil lawsuits.

In Toronto, prosecutors argued that Mr. Nygard had a pattern of luring women into his office bedroom in different episodes from the 1980s until 2005.

The women in the trial described feeling both excited and hesitant about Mr. Nygard’s offer to meet, since the invitations materialized after as little as a chance encounter with him on an airplane. But all eventually agreed to tour the downtown office building, to attend a corporate party there or to discuss career opportunities.

The design of Nygard International’s Toronto headquarters reflected the Finnish heritage and personal tastes of its founder. Lush indoor greenery cascaded down an open staircase, and meetings took place around a coffee table carved from a slab of the Berlin Wall.

Mr. Nygard showed each of the women to a futuristic sliding door that revealed the entrance to the bedroom suite, they testified.

The moodily lit room immediately struck the fifth central witness as a “sordid environment,” she told jurors over two days of testimony this week, adding, “It was the opposite of anything I would have expected.”

Mr. Nygard had met the woman at a ritzy event at an Ottawa nightclub, when she was in her early 20s and juggling jobs as a TV presenter, artist and aspiring clothing designer, she said. Mr. Nygard later called her mother, she said, to suggest that he could help her career.

But the business meeting never happened. Instead, after flying her to Toronto from Los Angeles and making sexual remarks over a brief meal of oysters, Mr. Nygard led the woman upstairs in what she thought was a “pit stop” on a tour of the office, she testified. He pinned her on the bed and raped her, she told jurors, at moments through tears, with a support dog napping by her side at the witness stand.

She testified that he ignored, and then became angry with, her repeated pleas to stop, telling her, “The girls let me do this. Why aren’t you letting me do this?” and “Don’t you know how it works?”

The woman’s mother, who testified on Wednesday, advised her daughter against alerting the police at the time because of Mr. Nygard’s outsize wealth and reputation. When the woman eventually reported the assault to the Los Angeles police in 2020, and the Toronto police in 2021, she was supported by Gloria Allred, a renowned women’s rights attorney in the United States who has represented victims in several high-profile sexual assault cases.

Brian Greenspan, the veteran Toronto defense attorney representing Mr. Nygard, pressed the woman on whether she planned to pursue civil litigation. She said that was not on her mind, adding that Ms. Allred was not retained to represent her.

Four of the complainants are involved in another lawsuit in the United States, which Mr. Greenspan says is funded by Louis Bacon, a hedge fund billionaire who owns property in the Bahamas next to Mr. Nygard’s. The two wealthy neighbors have been engaged in multimillion-dollar legal feuds for decades.

Mr. Nygard has been awaiting his criminal trial in prison for the last two years after being arrested at his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The first witness met Mr. Nygard during a Toronto-bound flight from the Bahamas. She testified that he raped her in the office bedroom in 1989.

The youngest complainant, who is now 35, testified that she was a teenager when she and the older man she was seeing were invited to what was supposed to be an “elaborate and extravagant” party at Mr. Nygard’s office. There was no party. Instead, her companion insisted that Mr. Nygard look at her “undeveloped” genitals, despite her refusals, she testified. Another woman was present when Mr. Nygard raped her, she said.

“I remember looking at her hoping that she would stop it, and she didn’t,” the woman said.

The trial resumes next week and is expected to wrap up in less than three weeks.

Mathew Silver contributed reporting from Toronto.