In a virtual hearing Thursday in the Manitoba Court of Appeal, lawyers for Peter Nygard lobbied that he should be released from custody as he awaits an extradition hearing.
Arrested in mid-December at the request of U.S. officials under the countries’ extradition treaty, Nygard was initially imprisoned at the Winnipeg Remand Center. He is now being held at the Headingley Correctional Center, where he has access to a phone in his cell for 16 hours a day. He is facing a nine-count indictment brought forward by the Southern District of New York that includes sex trafficking and racketeering.
Last month Nygard was denied bail by Justice Shawn Greenberg. His legal team had argued that the 79-year-old’s health is at risk in jail. The attorney general’s representatives had countered that the Finnish-born Nygard, who owns properties in Canada, the U.S. and in the Bahamas, is a potential flight risk.
On Thursday, both sides battled over the bail letters, the Authority to Proceed, the Record of the Case and scores of allegations of criminal behavior that have been waged against Nygard. They clashed for hours in the Manitoba Court of Appeal. They also disputed and defended allegations that have been made by anonymous accusers.
Greenberg had aired concerns, noting that Nygard had not shown up for previous court appearances in the past and the potential for his employees to falsify evidence. In making a case for Canada’s attorney general, the lawyer argued the potential for Nygard’s intermediaries to contact witnesses on his behalf, or for him to use their phones to contact witnesses. He also referenced the previous bail hearings, including concerns about the availability of Nygard’s potential surety.
Nygard, who appeared via video for his bail hearing, listened into Thursday’s hearing, which was overseen by Justice Jennifer Pfuetzner. The all-day hearing did not result in a decision. She said that it would be no surprise that she would be taking some time to consider her decision. After thanking both sides for their submissions, Pfuetzner said, “I will have my decision as soon as I can. That will not be a long time.”
Nygard’s legal team argued that his presumptive innocence has been jeopardized by documents filed by U.S. authorities that included inflammatory claims. One of his attorneys noted how Nygard has no previous criminal convictions and was once engaged in a tremendously successful business and employed thousands of people across Canada.
His team said the bail judge was unfairly critical of the proposed release plan for Nygard and highlighted an enhanced one that could include having the round-the-clock security person, who would be on the premises with Nygard, monitor and register any visitors and possibly have them offer their electronic devices as a deposit during their visits. The new house arrest plan would call for 24/7 monitoring of Nygard and of his computers, phone calls and text messages.
The potential for witness tampering was debated by both sides.
They also argued that Nygard has type 2 diabetes, a fluctuating blood pressure and difficulty breathing at night. Those and other existing medical conditions have nothing to do with COVID-19, according to his lawyers, who also noted how the coronavirus often strikes those with pre-existing conditions.
Acknowledging Greenberg’s statement that the virus does not constitute a get out of jail card, he argued that “this is a vulnerable setting for a vulnerable person” and noted how the number of cases are up across Canada, particularly in the last week, and “variants are rising.”
The attorney general’s representative Douglas McCoy noted at the end of the all-day hearing that inmates at Headingley Correctional Center are expected to be vaccinated within the next three weeks. One of Nygard’s attorneys, Brian Greenspan, noted an outbreak could occur at any time and Nygard is at a greater risk due to his age and various health issues.
In its motion that was filed on March 12, the attorney general stated Nygard is accused of sexually exploiting female victims, adults and minors, over a period of decades. The U.S. alleges that in a repeated pattern he would coerce them into sexual relationships. The motion alleged that some of his victims would become part of his staff, functioning as “quasi assistants.”
Referring to the Authority to Proceed, “which shapes the entire focus of any extradition hearing,” Greenberg said it is “inconsistent with material previously considered to be credible and trustworthy.” He also questioned the Record of the Case, in particular the bail letters and requests for provisional arrest warrant that alleged the charges related to dozens of women over decades. Nygard’s lawyer claimed the ROC only related to seven victims, two of whom only alleged one incident of sexual conduct, adding that the time frame has been reduced to less than half of 25 years.
Nygard allegedly coerced victims with false promises of career advancement, threats of economic harm, surveillance of victims, isolation, violence, verbal abuse, nonconsensual sex and controlling the victims of movements. Greenberg challenged the claim that Nygard frequently transported minors for the purpose of sex, and used force, fraud and coercion to recruit minor victims to engage in paid sex. “None of this has been substantiated in the record of the case. There is only one minor who alleges that she was a curious teenager who made the decision to join the applicant as a travel companion without fully understanding its implications,” he said.
Later in the proceedings Farlinger used one singular aspect of one paragraph from the bail letters. He also disputed claims that an alleged victim could come and go as she pleased, referencing the bail letters.
The motion alleged that Nygard made “systemic use” of company resources to recruit, victimize and manage relationships with victims. It reiterated claims that his staff would rank and screen female invitees for their physical appearances and stock Nygard with sex lubricant and cash.
Other cited allegations include Nygard used company funds to pay victims or to arrange for plastic surgery and abortions. There were also claims that Nygard prevented them from leaving his properties and in some instances requested that the alleged victims recruit more women.
The attorney general’s March 12 filing noted how a pre-trial judge is targeting having a hearing date for Nygard’s extradition as early as June.