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Peter Nygard is seen at The Beverly Hills Hotel, in a March 2, 2014, file photo.Annie I. Bang/The Associated Press

Federal agents and New York police officers on Tuesday raided the Manhattan headquarters of Peter Nygard, a Canadian fashion retailer, as part of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault, two officials said. The operation followed a raid on his Los Angeles home the night before.

The previously undisclosed investigation, by a joint child exploitation task force that included the FBI and the New York Police Department, has been under way for at least five months. Investigators have interviewed at least four young women who claim that Nygard, a 78-year-old Canadian multi-millionaire, raped them in the Bahamas as teenagers.

On Tuesday evening, a spokesman for Nygard said he would step down as chairman and divest ownership of his company, Nygard International, “recognizing the priority of the welfare of the thousands of Nygard employees, retail partners, loyal customers, vendors, suppliers and business partners.”

The announcement came after a major client, Dillard’s department stores, said it would no longer carry Nygard’s fashion line.

The four women interviewed by the task force were also plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Nygard filed this month in New York. The suit, brought on behalf of 10 women, accuses him of sex trafficking and other misconduct.

On Sunday, The New York Times detailed how a long, ugly feud with his billionaire neighbour in the Bahamas had led to the lawsuit, and showed a pattern of complaints about Nygard stretching back 40 years.

Nygard is a Finnish-born multi-millionaire who has travelled with an entourage of models and self-described “paid girlfriends.” Since the 1980s, Nygard has spent much of his time in an ultrarich community in the Bahamas.

His private multinational company has catered to middle-class women, selling leggings and tunics at his own outlets and Dillard’s department stores. On Tuesday, a Dillard’s spokeswoman said the company had cancelled existing orders and suspended future purchases, saying Nygard’s alleged actions were “in direct opposition to our core values.”

Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for Nygard, Ken Frydman, said the fashion executive welcomed the investigation and expected that his name would be cleared. Frydman accused Nygard’s neighbour, hedge fund founder Louis Bacon, of being behind the litigation and federal raids.

Nygard is now believed to be in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he started his company and maintains an office.

Federal law enforcement authorities raided Nygard’s home in Marina del Rey on Monday evening. About a dozen investigators in FBI and New York Police Department jackets worked Tuesday morning at Nygard’s corporate headquarters near Times Square in Manhattan, even bringing in a crow bar and a sledgehammer. They spent time on the sixth floor of the building, which he illegally converted into a private apartment with a Jacuzzi, according to a citation from the city in 2013.

The headquarters and adjacent flagship store are emblazoned with his name and feature a large picture of him, golden muscles flexing, long grey hair flowing.

Investigators, who spent about five hours in the building, carried out at least eight boxes of materials, including at least one computer hard drive.

It is not the first time Nygard has been investigated by the federal authorities: The FBI briefly looked at Nygard in 2015 and 2017 over allegations of sex trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security also investigated Nygard for nine months starting in 2016. All the inquiries sputtered out.

Nygard was estimated to be worth roughly US$750 million in 2014 by Canadian Business magazine. An avowed playboy, he has fathered at least 10 children with eight women. In the Bahamas, he demanded a steady supply of sex partners, six former employees told The Times. The employees said they searched for young women at shops, clubs and restaurants to invite to parties and dinners.

Nygard called his Bahamian estate “the eighth wonder of the world”: It featured sculptures of predators like lions and smoke-breathing snakes, a human aquarium where topless women undulated in mermaid tails, and a disco with a stripper pole.

Accusations against Nygard predated the current lawsuit. Nine women in Canada and California, mostly former employees, have sued Nygard or reported him to the authorities since 1980, alleging sexual harassment or assault, The Times found. Another nine former employees said in interviews that he had raped them, touched them inappropriately or proposed sex.

The Times also talked to the 10 women involved in the lawsuit, each listed as Jane Doe in court documents. Most say that Nygard raped them during “pamper parties,” which Nygard held on many Sunday afternoons at his Bahamian estate, offering young female guests pedicures, massages, Jet Ski rides and endless alcohol.

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