Fraudster with victims across three continents

Even the most rudimentary check on the background of Peter Foster would have told Cherie Blair that this was not a man with whom a Prime Minister's wife, Queen's Counsel and part-time judge should have any dealings.

In fact, if one were to pick a man with whom the Prime Minister's wife would be least advised to become financially involved, convicted confidence trickster Foster would be up there in the top ten, alongside Jeffrey Archer and Robert Maxwell.

Equally, a wide range of police, consumer protection and immigration officials in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, not to mention hundreds of dissatisfied purchasers of various bogus slimming aids, would have warned Mrs Blair on the inadvisability of having any involvement with Mr Foster.

And then there are Samantha Fox and Esther Rantzen, both of whom might have cautioned Mrs Blair. Presenter Ms Rantzen has lost count of the number of times she exposed his activities on her programme That's Life. She said: "He is simply a very successful conman who uses his intelligence and charm to persuade people to trust him. Each time we exposed him, or the trading standards people caught up with him, he would just take a flying leap to another continent. I don't think he has ever had a legitimate business in his life.'' Ms Rantzen said she was amazed that, despite his record and reputation, he had continued to be let into Britain and other countries.

Foster's career as a fraudster began in his late teens, when he started promoting boxing matches on the Queensland Gold Coast, in his native Australia. He was fined by a judge for trying to claim insurance on a fight which had been cancelled in dubious circumstances. In 1984, after affecting a wealthy lifestyle, he was made bankrupt amid allegations of unpaid bills and a failed scheme to help people stop smoking

In the mid-1980s Foster and his mother moved to Britain, where he began a relationship with Samantha Fox – then the nation's favourite Page Three pin-up – and used her to front a campaign to sell his Bai Lin slimming tea. After the tea was exposed as worthless on That's Life, the company collapsed in 1988 with £700,000 debts and Ms Fox found she had been used as an innocent pawn. His company was later fined £5,000 for breaching the Trades Descriptions Act, but he left the country before sentencing.

The following year, he turned up in Los Angeles, where he was selling a cholesterol-reducing tea called Cho Lo. He was jailed for four months for "conspiracy to commit grand theft through advertising". After release, he skipped America and so avoided the community service part of his sentence.

Back in Australia again, he was confronted by its companies watchdog, the Australian Securities Commission, over allegations involving interfering with witnesses to an inquiry into one of his businesses.

While that inquiry was still going on, he returned to Britain again in 1994 to face sentencing over the Bai Lin affair. He was fined £21,000. The following year, in Liverpool, he was jailed for two years for another diet scam. He was found guilty of conspiring to supply a product with a false description.

After nine months, he was let out on day release and fled back to Australia where the Securities Commission caught up with him. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for managing a corporation while insolvent and threatening witnesses. He was then extradited back to Britain, where he faced further fraud charges. He pleaded guilty, but was freed by the court because the judge sentenced him to time spent on remand.

He returned again to Australia and became involved in the marketing of Trimit diet pills, for which he is currently wanted for questioning by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after complaints from investors.

It is not clear when he began his relationship with Carole Caplin, the former soft-porn magazine cover girl who has been Mrs Blair's advisor on fitness and dress for several years.

Although he has also been renting a flat in the West Hampstead area, he is currently staying with Ms Caplin at her flat in Islington, in north London, from where he issued his statement yesterday defiantly saying he had never stolen money from anyone.

Foster's convictions

1983: fined £75,000 in Australia for fraud.

1989: sentenced to four months in jail in Los Angeles for peddling fake slimming tea Cho Lo

1994: fined £21,000 at Warwick Crown Court for another bogus slimming tea, Bai Lin

1995: jailed for two years at Liverpool Crown Court after talking a former slimmer of the year into falsely claiming that she lost weight with ''slimming granules''. Fled the UK after nine months while on day release.

1996: given 18-month prison sentence in Queensland for threatening witnessing and running a company while insolvent.

2000: after being extradited to UK, sentenced to 33 months for fraudulent "thigh-reduction scheme" but freed immediately because of time served on remand.

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