NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - Canadian fashion designer Peter Nygård escalated his acrimonious U.S. legal battle with Louis Bacon, saying the billionaire hedge fund manager may have driven a groundskeeper to set a fire that heavily damaged Nygård's neighboring Bahamas beachfront estate.
Nygård made the accusation in a countersuit filed Wednesday in a New York state court in Manhattan, where he sought $50 million to punish Bacon for an alleged years-long "vendetta" that he said included harassment and frivolous litigation.
The countersuit responded to Bacon's own defamation lawsuit accusing the chairman of Winnipeg-based Nygård International of orchestrating an "obsessive, deliberate and malicious" smear campaign against him for 4-1/2 years.
Bacon, who founded New York-based Moore Capital Management, doubled the damages sought to $100 million in March.
Both men have denied each other's claims, many of which have been raised in print and social media in the Bahamas.
They are linked to Bacon's opposition to Nygård's desire to rebuild his estate in the gated Lyford Cay community, following a Nov. 11, 2009 fire that caused millions of dollars of damage.
Bacon, some environmental groups and residents have said the work might harm the surrounding ecosystem and beaches.
In Wednesday's countersuit, Nygård said the fire started after Bacon ordered his property manager Dan Tuckfield to "find a way to burn Mr. Nygård's ****ing house down."
Tuckfield was found dead in a pool on Bacon's property fewer than six months later. Nygård called that death "particularly suspicious given that he was an expert swimmer who had previously survived a plane crash in the ocean, miles offshore."
The countersuit offered no direct evidence that Bacon was involved in Tuckfield's death.
Bacon has denied involvement, saying a coroner blamed the death on heart disease. He has also denied any role in the fire, saying faulty building wiring was widely considered the cause.
Previously, Bacon accused Nygård of falsely linking him to bribery, drug smuggling, insider trading and the Ku Klux Klan.
Orin Snyder, a lawyer for Bacon, said in a statement on Thursday Nygård will, in court, "be held accountable for his malicious lies and other wrongful acts."
Aaron Marks, a lawyer for Nygård, in a phone interview said: "Mr. Bacon was the initiator of this feud and has been the aggressor throughout. In this lawsuit, we will have for the first time the opportunity to find out the facts."
Bacon is worth $1.75 billion, Forbes magazine said on Thursday.
The case is Bacon v Nygård et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 150400/2015. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)