Foster in Fiji: What the Blairs' favourite conman was really up to

Australian in custody again after trying to 'go straight'
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Peter Foster loves Fiji. And Fiji once loved Mr Foster, who was a familiar face in upmarket bars and restaurants in the laid-back South Pacific nation.

Now the love affair has ended. Mr Foster, the Australian conman at the centre of the "Cheriegate" scandal, is in hospital under police guard in the capital, Suva. When he recovers from a head wound that he received while evading arrest, he faces deportation - as well as possible charges for immigration violations, mortgage fraud and corporate sabotage.

Mr Foster had been on the run for several weeks when police caught up with him outside a villa near Suva last Wednesday. After trying to get away by car, he dived into the river. Officers commandeered a fisherman's boat and, during the pursuit, Mr Foster was struck on the forehead by the boat's propeller.

Fiji television showed him being carted off to hospital in a police truck, wearing only a pair of underpants. His Fijian lawyer, Mehboob Raza, said on Friday that he planned to file a complaint for assault. His mother, Louise, claims that he was beaten up by police after being arrested.

Trouble seems to find him wherever he goes - or perhaps the opposite is more accurate. He has served jail terms in Britain, Australia and the US, mainly for fraud. Cherie Blair was forced to issue a tearful public apology in 2002 after it emerged that Mr Foster - then the partner of her "lifestyle guru", Carole Caplin - had helped her to buy two cut-price flats in Bristol. He returned to Australia in 2003 (to write a book he swore could bring down the Prime Minister).

For the past year, though, he has concentrated his energies on Fiji, embarking on a series of ventures. At the heart of the current dispute is a convoluted tale apparently involving attempts to lease a block of land and build an "upmarket six-star boutique resort". That proved impossible because the land was the subject of a legal dispute. Despite that hitch, he allegedly persuaded an American bank to give him a £160,000 mortgage.

Earlier this month, there was an advertising blitz on websites, internet chatrooms and in emails to newspapers, promoting a planned resort by a rival developer with the lease on a neighbouring piece of land, a New Zealander called Evan Williams.

But, while the ads were all in Mr Williams's name, he knew nothing about them. Worse, they promoted the resort as a "heavenly haven for homosexuals" where boys could be bought "as young as you want them".

Police said they believed that Mr Williams was the victim of a smear campaign, and that Mr Foster had concocted the websites. At that point he tried to vanish. It is now alleged his aim was to discredit Mr Williams so he could get the lease from him.

The irony is that, according to friends, this was supposed to be Mr Foster's "first straight project". But, said one, "he just can't resist cutting corners". Through his mother, Mr Foster has denied any wrongdoing.