North America

Trouble in Paradise – a neighborhood spat in the Bahamas

beach

In The Bahamas I stay on the west of New Providence Island. This side of the island is well away from the tourist hustle and bustle of downtown Nassau. Rather it is an area largely made up of gated-communities, a playground for rich American and European retirees and tax exiles, living in palatial houses surrounded by palm trees, sunshine, and glorious white-sand beaches.

Sounds idyllic, no? Well, for the most part it is. But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. So here is a short story about the real-life goings on at some of the “neighbors”.

This story is set in Lyford Cay, a gated-community that is probably the most exclusive of all the well-heeled enclaves in The Bahamas. It is at the very western-most tip of New Providence Island, and is an elegant estate of mansions and gardens, centered around a world-class golf course and a pretty snooty beach club (jeans are not allowed and for men, jackets are required after 5pm). It is all neatly tucked away and private, behind high walls and security cameras.

Prime beachfront properties in Lyford Cay are seriously big and brash. If one was for sale (in itself a rarity) you’d probably need to have at least $25 million plus change to be in the running.

Although even that is not the pinnacle of luxury living, Bahamian-style.

You see, at the very far-western end of Lyford Cay is a peninsula of land owned by one Peter Nygård, a flamboyant Canadian billionaire. He is a rags-to-riches kind of guy, who grew up in poverty, built one of North America’s largest fashion retailing empires, and then in 1987 decamped to The Bahamas. There he bought up the whole of what was known as Simm’s Point.

Without the slightest hint of bashfulness, he renamed it to “Nygård Cay”, and built on it his dream home, a 150,000 square foot palace-cum-compound. It has something like 23 bedrooms, endless other salons and lounges, and a central banquet hall covered by a huge domed glass roof that weighs about 100,000 pounds.

But it is not for this reason that Nygård himself once referred to his Bahamian home as “the Eighth Wonder of the World”. No, what sets this colossus apart from other big homes in Lyford Cay is that Nygård had the whole thing built in completely over-the-top faux Mayan architecture.

west_bay_007_scale

So there are huge pyramids and Inca heads and carved statues everywhere. There are massive stone walls and stairways, and pools flowing through the property with grottos and caves and waterslides. Not to mention several tennis courts and a private beach on which there are not one, not two, but three Olympic-grade beach volleyball courts (Nygård is an enthusiast, evidently).

And of course what self-respecting modern-day Mayan temple wouldn’t have an aquarium, a disco, and more than 20 themed pool cabanas scattered around the estate? Plus Peter has his own custom-fitted Boeing to get around in. When he is in residence it sits on the runway at Nassau Airport. Not hard to spot really, given the massive blue letters down both sides of the plane that spell out: “NYGARD AIR”.

It is all so large and excessive that Nygård Cay and its owner have often featured on TV shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”. Oprah Winfrey once filmed an episode of her famous talk-show there. Apparently, when she saw the scale and extent of the place, she said: “I am not living large enough!

But that’s not the end of it. You see, Nygård, as mentioned, is rather flamboyant, and leads the life you’d expect of someone who built himself a Mayan palace in the Bahamas.

So even though he is now in his 60s, he continues to enjoy the company of many beautiful young ladies. He has had a string of glamorous girlfriends, and has fathered seven kids from four different women (one of whom he even married for a short while). For a time he dated Anna Nicole Smith. Over the years Nygård Cay has hosted a “who’s who” of celebrities, politicians and business notables.

And of course, Nygård likes to have the odd casual get-together at his Bahamas bolt-hole. Nygård Cay’s parties are (in)famous, a-la Hugh Hefner, and admission is by invitation only. Basically, you have to be rich, famous, or young and exceedingly beautiful to be on the list. But I don’t want to cast aspersions (and I don’t want to get sued), so I will just let Peter Nygård explain what he himself describes as his “Sunday afternoon pamper parties”: “We have been running these parties for about 15 years. We start sports activities in the afternoon and play beach volleyball and have dinner and a bit of karaoke and dancing and massaging”.

Yeah, right, nothing suspect about that at all.

Anyway, the guy who owns the beach shack next-door to Nygård’s (if you can call a multi-million dollar waterfront estate a beach shack) is an American bloke named Louis Bacon. He is the founder of Moore Capital, a massively successful hedge fund in New York, but now spends a lot of his time in the sunny (and tax-free) clime of Lyford Cay. Bacon is a lot less flamboyant, but also a whole lot richer, than his Canadian neighbor. Although I guess when wealth is measured in the billions, it hardly matters.

Like with all good neighborly feuds, no-one is quite sure where this one began. But about ten years ago Bacon began complaining publicly that Nygård was dredging the bay in front of their properties, in order to illegally expand the beach and thus increase the size of Nygård Cay by stealth.

To deal with the problem Bacon created a foundation dedicated to the preservation of the marine environment of The Bahamas. The foundation bought up much of the Lyford Cay coastline to establish a nature reserve over it. This co-incidentally had the happy side-effect of stopping any further expansion of Nygård Cay dead in its tracks.

For good measure, Bacon also complained about the noise coming from the frequent parties at Nygård Cay. And he accused his neighbor of running an unauthorized hotel, because Nygård Cay was advertised as being available for hire (for a mere $42,000 a night)….

NC at night 2

Nygard, not surprisingly, objected strongly. He claimed that this was all a case of petty jealousy, and that Bacon was just throwing a childish tantrum (billionaire style), because Nygård had repeatedly refused to sell him Nygård Cay. A PR offensive was unleased in which Nygård trotted out his Bahamian credentials, his passion for the natural environment, and an explanation of how he had done nothing wrong.

A number of vitriolic law suits kicked-off in the Bahamas. But, really, where’s the fun in relying on the judicial system if you’re a mega-bucks mogul with oodles of dollars to spend, up against another mega-bucks mogul with just as many dollars to spend as you?

So in 2009, Bacon decided to take matters into his own hands. He did so by procuring a couple of big-ass speakers, installing them at the boundary of his property, and pointing them directly at the window of Peter Nygård’s bedroom. And then he let ‘em blast, all night. Apparently at some point one of Bacon’s employees even ran out into the yard and screamed:  “There, that’s a message from Mr. Bacon. Don’t fuck with Louis”.

Nygård went bat-shit in response, and called in the cops. They raided Bacon’s home, hand-cuffed some of the staff, and took possession of the offending speakers. Apparently, the complaint included that the speakers were illegal “ultrasonic weapons” which Louis had somehow pilfered from the military, but this allegation was later dropped.

Now it was Bacon’s turn to go bat-shit. And if you believe the Nygård version of events, he did so in spectacular style. Specifically, not long after the speaker episode, a mysterious fire broke out that burned large chunks of Nygård Cay to the ground. The cause of the fire was officially put down to an electrical fault. Although Nygård’s people have made no secret of the fact that they think the fire was deliberately started on instruction from you-know-who. In court documents the public allegation is that Louis told a staff member to: “find a way to burn Nygård’s fucking house down”.

After that, things really began to heat up (pardon the pun).

Nygård immediately said he would spend $50 million to rebuild Nygård Cay on an even bigger, grander scale than before, and throw even bigger and grander parties. But The Bahamian Government foiled that plan, by rejecting the redevelopment application – supposedly owing to behind the scenes meddling by the all-powerful Louis Bacon.

More law-suits were started, and both sides began making sizeable donations to various Bahamian political parties (not at all motivated by self-interest, of course). In one law suit, Bacon alleges that Nygård went so far as to falsify news report footage before it was broadcast on Bahamian TV. He apparently had Bacon’s face superimposed on the body of a disgraced hedge fund manager as he was being carted off to jail.

In response, Peter played the race card. He released a promo video in which he (kind of bizarrely) says: “I am a Bahamian citizen and this is my country. I love Bahamian black people”. This statement in direct contrast to the fact that Bacon’s great grand-daddy was supposedly – wait for it – a card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan!

Not satisfied with this hard-hitting punch to the Bacon solar plexus, Nygård then is said to have sponsored a public rally in the center of Nassau. Folks carried placards decrying Bacon as a racist and stood under a large banner that said: “The Coalition to Rid the Bahamas of Louis Moore Bacon.” Some of the (largely black Bahamian) protesters wore white peaked hoods and carried images of burning crosses…

Nygard-Cay-Beach-Resort

From there the “Battle of the Billionaires” went into overdrive.

Remember that person who drowned mysteriously in the pool at your home, Louis? Seems suspicious, don’t you think. So maybe some of your employees should be arrested and questioned over it. Take that Bacon, you snake!

Well, you know all that petty vandalism and spray-painting of my house lately, Peter? I am just sure it was your handiwork. I might even start another law suit over it. Right back at you Nygård, you weasel!

And it has gone on like this ever since, back and forth, with each round upping the ferocity (not to mention the brilliant creativity) of the last.

So Bacon has publicly accused Nygård of having had his lawyer incite a “mob riot” against Bacon’s environmental lawyer.

So Nygård has publicly suggested that a visit to the Bahamas by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, was specifically at the behest of Bacon (he with the KKK heritage, remember), for the sole purpose of fomenting anti-Nygård unrest. And so Nygård has allegedly accused Bacon of bribery, drug smuggling, and of harboring fugitives from the law.

So a star-studded group of Lyford Cay home-owners (including, for example, Sean Connery and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) have filed their own law suit to block any further redevelopment of Nygård Cay. No prizes for guessing who is reportedly bank-rolling that action.

So Nygård went to the media with the incredible claim that this was all just a case of Bacon secretly trying to divert attention from his real ambition in life, that being to topple the ruling party in The Bahamas, a coup-d’etat of sorts for the sole purpose of blocking the redevelopment of Nygård Cay. Seems a bit excessive, if you ask me, but then I am not a billionaire, so what would I know?

And most recently, thoroughly pissed off at being continually maligned in this way, Bacon launched a $50 million defamation law-suit in a New York court. In the filing Bacon accuses Nygård of surreptitiously waging an “obsessive and malicious” smear campaign, and of acting as “ringleader of a conspiracy” to besmirch Bacon. He also claims that Nygård “harbors spite, ill will, and animus” toward him. No shit, Sherlock, I don’t think you need a bunch of high paid lawyers to figure that one out….

For its part the Nygård camp lost no time in issuing a lengthy denial, counter-accusing Louis of all manner of evil misdeeds, and concluding that “this lawsuit is nothing more than yet another abuse of the judicial system by Mr. Bacon, a man who views himself as being above the law“.

Which brings us up to the present day. Stay tuned for the next installment.

There you have it – trouble in paradise, or what happen when billionaires behave badly in the Bahamas. Seriously, you couldn’t make shit like this up if you tried. Although it does kind of put into perspective whatever beef you may have about your neighbor’s overhanging trees.

bahamasbeach

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