Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Feature: Australia's `Greatest con man' resurfaces

AFP , WELLINGTON

The reappearance in Fiji of the man known as "Australia's greatest con man" at the center of another alleged scam has thrust the self-proclaimed "human headline" back into the spotlight.

In his 44 years, Gold Coast-born Peter Foster has been jailed on three continents and became a household name in Britain in 2002 over "Cheriegate" when British Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife tried to cover up the Australian's role in purchasing two flats for her.

His silver tongue and winning ways have sucked many into his schemes for selling quack slimming products.

They also helped him win the affections of high profile girlfriends such as 1980s British pin-up girl Samantha Fox and Carole Caplin, who was Cherie Blair's so-called "lifestyle guru" when he met her in 2002.

The human headline has been more of a footnote over the last two years but now he finds himself back in the public eye and apparently back on the run.

A planned resort in the Yasawa Islands in conservative, predominantly Christian Fiji has in recent weeks become the center of a furore over suggestions that it would be a perfect refuge for gay pedophiles.

Material posted on three Web sites and leaked to the local media said that the resort would be a "heavenly haven for homosexuals."

A man claiming to be linked to the development said on an Internet chat channel that Fijian boys "as young as you want them to be" would be available for sexual encounters.

Police now allege the material -- which also included claims that government officials were bribed to allow the development to go ahead -- were planted by Foster in a bid to discredit the New Zealand developers.

Reports have said that he planned to take over the project himself in association with several local partners.

Police have said they were looking for Foster over the alleged hoax but are now tightlipped about the details of their investigation, which also includes claims he is living in Fiji illegally.

"There is a continuing investigation but we don't want to say anything more than that, so we don't prejudice the investigation," police spokeswoman Prashila Narayan said.

Foster last hit the headlines in 2004, claiming he was going to publish a book about the relationship he and Caplin enjoyed with the Blairs. He claimed in newspaper interviews that Caplin had so much influence over Tony Blair that she even chose his underwear for him.

The link to Foster was downplayed by the Blairs, although a leaked series of e-mails contradicted Cherie Blair's claims that the Australian con man had not been involved in the purchase of the two luxury flats in a new development in the southwestern city of Bristol.

There was never any suggestion that there was anything illegal about the deal, although it went through around the same time that British immigration authorities were seeking to deport Foster because of his criminal record.

At various times Foster has complained to Australian and British press watchdogs about being described as a con man, but the complaints have been dismissed because Foster has spoken freely about his criminal past in a number of interviews.

Despite frequent claims to have learned his lesson and turned his life around, he has often seemed proud of his chequered history.

"Who said the Gold Coast is a sunny place for shady people? I love that. I always felt so at home here," he told in an interview in 2003.

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