For 25 years, Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygård used his international empire to target and victimize women and underage girls in a global sex trafficking scheme, US prosecutors said in a federal indictment unsealed on Tuesday.
Dozens of women and underage girls were allegedly victimized by Nygård, his friends, and business associates, across the US, Bahamas, and Canada, acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York announced.
Nygård was taken into custody Monday in Winnipeg by Canadian authorities under a provisional arrest warrant after the US requested his extradition. He is facing a nine-count indictment that includes charges of racketeering and sex trafficking.
For years, prosecutors say Nygård targeted women and girls with a history of abuse or who were struggling economically, then maintained control of them with false promises of a modeling career and, at times, threats, force, fraud, or coercion.
Prosecutors also allege Nygård, one of Canada's wealthiest people, also used "constant surveillance, restrictions of movement, and physical isolation" to manipulate and control dozens of victims.
Some of the victims were sexually assaulted by Nygård himself, authorities said, while others were assaulted or drugged to be sexually attacked.
"Nygård sometimes forcibly assaulted 'girlfriends' who did not comply with Nygård's sexual demands – or caused others to do so," prosecutors said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Nygård declined to comment on the allegations and charges filed against him. Attorneys representing Nygård in the civil case did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ten women filed a class-action lawsuit against Nygård back in February alleging they had been raped and sexually assaulted. More women have since signed on to the suit, which now includes 57 women, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Some of the women allege the assaults occurred when they were as young as 14 years old.
Then in August, the lawsuit was put on hold after a request by the US government filed under seal. The request was made after the FBI raided Nygård's offices in New York.
The request for a stay of proceedings is under the seal, but law enforcement at times can request a civil trial to be placed on hold if it might interfere with a criminal investigation or case.
The civil case has remained on hold for months until Tuesday, when the criminal indictment against Nygård was unsealed.
In the indictment, the fashion mogul reportedly referred to the women as "girlfriends" or "assistants," and required them to have sex with him and others "at his direction," prosecutors added.
Some of the women were also used to recruit others at Nygård's so-called Pamper Parties, where the designer offered food, drinks, and spa services at his properties in Marina del Rey, California, and in the Bahamas.
Authorities also allege the fashion designer used the parties to collect the personal information of attendees, including names, contact information, weight, and physical measurements.
"Nygård engaged in sexual activity with the victim on the premises and paid her cash," prosecutors said. "Some unwilling participants, including minors, were drugged to force their compliance with his sexual demands. Other victims had no advance warning of Nygård's interest in sexual activity before being lured to a secluded area of the property where Nygård used physical force and/or psychological pressure to coerce sex."
Nygård also allegedly attended swingers clubs to direct women to have sex with other men and arranged "swaps" with friends who would bring a "date" for Nygård in exchange for sex with one of his so-called girlfriends.
"Nygård did not inform 'girlfriends' in advance that he would trade them for sex and often used manipulation intimidation, degradation, and threats to ensure compliance," prosecutors said.
The victims, according to prosecutors, were paid for using money from Nygård's business, Nygård Group, and many of them were placed on the company payroll as models or assistants in the company.