Australia

Peter Foster: From 'Cheriegate' to fresh claims of fraud

Peter Foster, pictured in Fiji in 2006, is facing claims of fraud in Australia Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Peter Foster, pictured in Fiji in 2006, is facing claims of fraud in Australia

"I go from one catastrophe to another," declared Peter Foster, the serial conman behind Britain's "Cheriegate" scandal, after being released from prison in Vanuatu in 2007.

With his customary disingenuous charm, the Australian added: "I don't know how I do it. I'm going to have to learn eventually, I suppose."

A decade on, there is no sign that Foster - who once dated the Page Three model Samantha Fox - has altered his ways, despite serving further jail terms for more of the scams for which he has long been infamous.

Now the 54-year-old is back behind bars, charged with yet another alleged fraud: conning at least one investor in an online betting agency, the Sports Trading Club (STC), and funnelling up to A$32m (£20m; $24m) offshore.

Foster, who had been on the run for nearly a year, will face court this month after being arrested in a cafe on Queensland's Gold Coast in February and extradited to New South Wales. Last month, he was denied bail despite insisting to a magistrate that he was a changed man.

Image copyright 9news.com.au
Image caption Foster is escorted by police after his arrest in Queensland

The STC affair is the latest episode in the long-running soap opera that is Foster's life - a drama that embroiled and embarrassed the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in 2002, when it was revealed that the Australian had helped Mr Blair's wife, Cherie, to buy two cut-price flats in Bristol.

Downing St initially denied Mrs Blair's association with the convicted fraudster, but she was then forced to deliver a tearful public apology on TV. The pair had met through Foster's then partner, Carole Caplin, who was Mrs Blair's "fitness guru".

Under threat of deportation, Foster left Britain in 2003, and since then has divided his time between Australia and Fiji, allegedly continuing to fleece the gullible while portraying himself as a lovable rogue.

In Fiji, he was arrested in his underpants after diving into a river to evade police. He also tried to blacken the name of a rival property developer in that country, and was even credited with a part in one of its numerous coups.

Alias claim

His latest brush with the law comes after he allegedly swindled one STC investor out of A$1.5m, using an alias, Mark Hughes. The Perth-based man became suspicious after receiving a text message from an STC director which mentioned Peter Foster by name. He realised Foster and Hughes were allegedly one and the same.

Appearing by video link in Sydney's Central Local Court, Foster pleaded for bail, claiming he was at risk of being killed in jail for informing on a Gold Coast businessman, John Chardon, accused of murdering his wife.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Foster in 2002, at the height of the "Cheriegate" scandal
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Foster helped Mrs Blair buy two cut-price flats in Bristol

The garrulous Australian, who shared a cell with Chardon in 2015, also promised the magistrate he would not abscond. "My past is bad, and I'm the first to admit it, but even God can't change the sins of the past," he declared.

Foster, who is close to his elderly, sick mother, added: "I'm not the person I was 20 years ago or 10 years ago. I don't want to run away from my own family. I don't want to be an orphan travelling the world."

Unimpressed, the magistrate refused to grant bail, deeming him a flight risk - particularly in light of an "escape kit", including a fake Irish passport, which police previously found buried in his backyard.

Bogus weight-loss products

As a teenager, Foster promoted nightclubs and boxing matches on the Gold Coast. He made a fraudulent insurance claim in relation to a cancelled match when he was just 20.

Over the years, many of his scams have involved bogus weight-loss products, including the notorious Bai Lin tea, which he persuaded Ms Fox and the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, to promote during the 1980s.

The tea and other products - including so-called "slimming granules", Ageless Ageing jelly, the TRIMit diet pill and a thigh reduction cream - saw him fined and jailed in Britain, the US and Australia during the late '80s and '90s.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Foster speaks to reporters in Brisbane in 2003

Given bail in Fiji after his watery arrest in 2006, Foster absconded and crisscrossed the South Pacific, eventually wading to shore in Vanuatu, carrying his belongings in a plastic bag. He was imprisoned for immigration offences but freed early, apparently after a long lunch with police and prison officers.

In 2011, he was arrested at his mother's hospital bedside, managing to stuff his mobile phone under her pillow before being led away.

In 2013, he went on the run yet again - and it was during this period, holed up in Byron Bay, on the northern NSW coast, that he allegedly conducted the betting fraud.

Arrested and jailed in 2014 following a tussle with police during which his underpants fell down, Foster was later fined A$660,000 for conning 90 investors in his SensaSlim "weight loss spray" out of A$6 million. The judge described him as "beyond redemption".

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