Two years after Canadian police arrested disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygård and charged him with forcible confinement and multiple counts of sexual assault, a Toronto jury found the designer guilty of four counts of sexual assault. The verdict, delivered Sunday, marks the first conviction in what could be years of criminal proceedings against Nygård, a multimillionaire who once helmed the defunct women’s clothing brand Nygård International.
In 2020, dozens of women came forward with allegations of sex trafficking and assault that spanned a 25-year period and multiple countries. The designer’s accusers, whom he allegedly targeted because they were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or had been abused in the past, have also said that they were sometimes assaulted or drugged by Nygård’s associates to “ensure their compliance with Nygård’s sexual demands.” These people allegedly used threats — of reputational harm and of lawsuits — to silence his victims, according to an official indictment from the time.
Following an FBI raid at Nygård’s Los Angeles home and New York offices, the mogul was indicted in Manhattan and arrested at his Winnipeg home in 2020 under an extradition treaty between the United States and Canada. He subsequently stepped down as Nygård International chairman, and the company eventually filed for bankruptcy. After a Canadian judge denied Nygård bail in February 2021, Toronto police slapped him with additional sexual-assault charges. By that point, the abuse allegations were also coming from inside Nygård’s own house: In a lawsuit filed in August 2020 in New York, two of his sons accused the mogul of organizing their statutory rapes, allegedly ordering a longtime girlfriend and “known sex worker” to “make a man” of them, which is to say have sex with them when they were, respectively, 14 and 15 years old. Kai Bickle, one of Nygård’s sons, told the Times he renounced his father’s last name and participated in the investigation against him. “It’s not a good brand association to be the son of a monster,” he told the outlet in an interview outside the courtroom. “I loved my father. It hurts me to see all these things.”
Next up, Nygård faces criminal cases in several Canadian cities as well as in New York. The six-week Toronto trial, which began on September 26, dealt only with allegations from five of Nygård’s accusers, though it was the first time criminal charges against the mogul were aired out in court. The five women (whose names have been withheld) testified that the designer sexually assaulted them in a hidden bedroom suite inside his office at Nygård International’s Toronto headquarters, detailing incidents dating back to the ’80s that allegedly took place when the women were between the ages of 16 and 28. Prosecutors said the suite contained a large bed, Jacuzzi, stocked bar, television playing pornography, and sliding doors without handles and with keypad-operated locks that only Nygård could control.
“I was a prisoner in that room,” said one of Nygård’s accusers, per the New York Times. “The door sliding open is seared in my psyche.”
After a little over five days of deliberation, jurors found Nygård not guilty of one count of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement. Prosecutors say a sentencing hearing will be set for November 21; per the Times, ten years is the maximum prison sentence for sexual assault in Canada. Below, the key-witness testimony from Toronto.
One witness testified that Nygård threw a $100 bill at her after raping her.
The first witness to take the stand told the court that the mogul sexually assaulted her in his bedroom suite in 1989 after the two attended a Rolling Stones concert together in Downtown Toronto. Per the Times, the woman, who is an actress, had met Nygård a few months prior on a flight from the Bahamas to Toronto, where she said someone from Nygård’s entourage summoned her out of the economy section to introduce her to Nygård.
After the concert, the woman said Nygård took her on a visit to his office building, where he led her to the bedroom suite and closed the door behind them. At that point, the woman said, she realized there was no doorknob and asked Nygård how she could leave. She testified that he then punched numbers into a keypad, seemingly locking them inside.
“It was like a nightmare,” she told the court, recalling her feelings of panic. “I thought, something is really wrong here. I was trapped.”
The woman told jurors she rebuffed Nygård’s advances, which apparently angered him; he allegedly pulled off her clothes and raped her. Afterward, she said he threw a Canadian hundred-dollar bill in her direction and called her a cab. “It was back to business, as if nothing had happened, like a personality switch,” the woman told jurors.
Another witness told the court that Nygård raped her when she was 16 years old after demanding to see her “underdeveloped” vagina in front of a group.
Now 35, the youngest witness in the case told jurors how Nygård raped her when she was 16 years old, allegedly enlisting another woman to help assault her. According to the Toronto Sun, the woman, who says she was sexually abused as a child, explained on the stand that she met Nygård when a 32-year-old she was seeing invited her to the home of a wealthy fashion designer.
“I was expecting that there would be a party, maybe, with models, good-looking people, catering, drinks,” said the woman. Instead, she was allegedly lured to Nygård’s Toronto offices, where only she, her date, Nygård, and an unnamed woman (who she said appeared to do Nygård’s “bidding”) were present. According to her testimony, Nygård took the group on a tour that ended in his hidden suite, where he showed her a photo of his jet, poured the group cognacs, invited them to the Bahamas, and had the unnamed woman get the witness’s phone number. She testified that Nygård, then 65 years old, told her she should model. In court, Nygård’s lawyer suggested she’d been flattered by the comment. “He was very old,” she countered.
The Sun reports that the gathering darkened after Nygård and her date began discussing her “underdeveloped” vagina. “I need to see it,” he allegedly said, attempting to pull up her skirt as she pushed him away. “Let him, let him,” she recalled her date saying before the two men allegedly spread her legs open together. “Shy of kicking him in the face and running, I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice,” the woman told the court, adding that she felt “weak and clouded.” The woman said Nygård performed oral sex on her as her date demanded oral sex. She said she looked to the woman for help; instead, the woman allegedly joined in at Nygård’s request, molesting the woman’s breasts as Nygård “mounted” and raped her.
The woman told the court that the next thing she remembered was vomiting in Nygård’s bathroom and the designer knocking on the door, telling her the condom was still inside her, which she proceeded to fish out. She said the woman helped her clean up and get dressed and gave her pills she told her would help her feel better, which the woman believes were morning-after pills. “It is difficult to rationalize what a 16-year-old is thinking, but I can tell you I thought that I somehow did something wrong,” she told jurors, per the Sun.
A third witness testified that Nygård’s party guests gathered around the suite bed to watch him attempt to rape her.
According to the Canadian outlet CBC News, a third witness also testified to meeting Nygård on a Bahamas-bound flight from Turks and Caicos in the ’90s when she was in her mid-20s. She said the mogul asked her to help him host his parties and that she hosted one in the Bahamas before being asked to throw a midnight party at his Toronto headquarters. The woman told the court she was tasked with making drinks and ordering Chinese food, which she was asked to bring upstairs to Nygård’s bedroom.
Once there, however, the woman said she noticed guests undressing; she also recalled two out of three television screens playing pornography while the third blasted CNN. She said she had a couple of drinks to ease her discomfort, only to wake up naked on the bed with Nygård pinning her down. The woman told the court that the other guests had gathered around the bed to watch Nygård “thrust his penis” against her vagina. Although she said she repeatedly told him “no,” she told jurors the mogul didn’t get off her until she started yelling for him to stop, prompting him to tell her she had ruined the party.
“I don’t know how I got in that position,” said the woman, per the Toronto Star. “I don’t know where my clothes were, why he’s on top of me, why everybody’s watching him do this to me.” The woman said she went on to help with parties at Nygård’s Bahamas estate for the next five years, after he promised she would “never be touched again under any circumstances.” The Times reports that Nygård was acquitted of her sexual assault charges.
The fourth witness said Nygård digitally penetrated her at what she believed would be a job interview.
The fourth witness told jurors she didn’t know who Nygård was when she met him on a flight from Toronto to the Bahamas in the late ’80s, according to the Star. After introducing himself, she testified that he offered her a job and promised to pay her three times her current salary, handing off a paper with phone numbers. “I just thought it was a creepy introduction,” the woman recalled, adding that she “hid” from Nygård after spotting him at the airport a few weeks later on her way back to Toronto. But after she later saw Nygård on television, she said a friend encouraged her to call him and discuss the job offer.
She did and testified that Nygård then invited her to his Toronto headquarters for an interview, where he allegedly led her to his private suite and tackled her onto the bed after she told him she wanted to leave. The woman told the court that Nygård lifted up her skirt and moved her underwear aside before digitally penetrating her with several of his fingers, ignoring her as she attempted to push him away and told him to get off. “It wasn’t the Mr. Nygård that I saw and spoke to earlier,” the woman testified, per the Star. “He was something totally different, very aggressive, very forceful, not polite, nothing. He was like an animal.”
The assault allegedly ended after an intercom went off and a receptionist called Nygård into his next appointment. “It’s your lucky day,” the woman remembered Nygård telling her. She reported the incident to the Toronto police in 2020.
A fifth woman said the mogul berated her after assaulting her.
The fifth witness recalled meeting Nygård at an Ottawa nightclub in 1989 when she was a 21-year-old aspiring designer, per CBC. In court, she recalled telling him about her interest in fashion and said he indicated he could help her out. According to the woman’s testimony, the two exchanged numbers; while the woman was in Los Angeles, Nygård allegedly contacted her mother, suggesting he wanted to help her with her career and asking to meet the woman in Toronto. The Times reports that Nygård flew her back to Toronto, where he allegedly made sexual remarks at an oyster dinner — “Oysters are like having a vagina in your mouth,” the woman recalled him saying — before taking her to his Toronto headquarters for an office tour. The woman said he led her to his “sordid” suite, a detour she believed would be a “pit stop,” before he allegedly lunged at her. The woman testified that Nygård then pinned her down and raped her, ignoring her repeated pleas for him to stop.
“The girls let me do this,” the woman recalled Nygård saying. “Why aren’t you letting me do this? Don’t you know how it works?”
In his own testimony, Nygård claimed he didn’t remember meeting four of the complainants.
Following his accusers’ testimonies, Nygård took the stand for almost a week in his own defense, categorically denying the allegations against him and maintaining that the office bedrooms were merely perks of being a Nygård employee. Telling jurors he experiences “short-term memory loss,” he testified that he did not remember meeting any of his complainants, barring the woman he hired as a party hostess. When pressed by prosecutors about the details of how he obtained the women’s contact information and promised to help them with their careers, Nygård argued that, hypothetically, predation would have been out of character for him.
“My position is that I would not have conducted myself in that kind of manner,” he said, per the Times. “I would not have been taking numbers from some female who was trying to be approaching me. This is a suicidal kind of thing in front of the media, and that’s a total no-no.”
He further claimed that records that substantiated his claims burned in a “mysterious fire” in Winnipeg ten days before his arrest.
Lawyers for Nygård accused his victims of “gold digging.”
In closing arguments, Nygård’s defense team urged jurors to reject the women’s “revisionist histories of events.” During cross-examination, the disgraced mogul’s legal team suggested that the women were fabricating their stories for financial gain, citing the fact that four complainants are involved in a class-action suit against Nygård in the United States. “Gold digging runs deep,” Nygård’s legal team remarked, after one of the women’s testimonies.
None of the women were present in the courtroom when the guilty verdict was delivered, but the Times reports that Shannon Moroney, who represents them and others involved in the ongoing class-action case against Nygård, called some of them with the news. “It’s always so many different emotions,” Moroney told the outlet. “It’s relief. It’s victory. It’s joy. It’s pain. It’s disappointment. This is a battle won in a much bigger war.”
This article has been updated.