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Dispute on tiny Bahamas island pits ultra-wealthy against each other

NASSAU, Bahamas - A land development dispute between some of the world's wealthiest people in one of the world's most exclusive communities has escalated on a small island in the Bahamas.

More than 100 people, including actor Sean Connery and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, have filed a legal complaint against the Bahamian government over an effort by the Manitoba-raised founder of the Nygard fashion empire, Peter Nygard, to redevelop his Mayan-themed compound in the Lyford Cay community.

The complaint was filed Monday and accuses the government of lacking transparency during a public consultation period as Nygard seeks to rebuild his 150,000-square-foot (13,935-square-meter) complex in the exclusive community at the western tip of New Providence island, home to the capital of Nassau.

A Nygard spokesman did not return messages for comment.

The complex, heavily damaged in a 2009 fire that authorities say was accidental, had been featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." Visitors to the compound before the fire included former U.S. President George Bush, actor Robert DeNiro and late singer Michael Jackson.

Those who filed the complaint accuse the government of withholding public records related to work on Nygard's compound.

They also say Nygard, ranked 85th on Canadian Business's 2014 list of wealthiest Canadians, previously caused significant environmental damage during continuing renovations that they say occurred without the required permits.

The legal complaint contains allegations not proven in court.

In addition to redeveloping his compound, known as Nygard Cay, Nygard is seeking to develop and gain access to land surrounding his property, prompting an outcry from other residents.

The complaint they filed seeks a judicial review of the process, and the Bahamas' Supreme Court is expected to soon review the lawsuits to determine if they can proceed to the next stage.

Brady, the former U.S. treasury secretary, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday that he has been travelling to the island since 1949.

"I'm a strong believer in the rule of law," he said. "As I understand it, Crown land is Crown land, and I don't think it's meant to be tinkered with."

Other people who joined the complaint include billionaire U.S. hedge fund manager Louis Bacon; businessman and philanthropist Sir Christopher Ondaatje; and Sarkis Izmirlian, chairman and CEO of Baha Mar, a $3.5 billion mega resort under construction on the island.

Local environmental group Save the Bays also filed a similar complaint, accusing Nygard of building structures it believes is blocking the natural flow of sand onto nearby Clifton Bay beach, which was made famous in the James Bond movie "Thunderball."

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