On the run again, conman at centre of Cheriegate affair

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The Independent Online

He has been imprisoned for fraud and impersonation on three continents and caused a huge scandal for Tony Blair. But even his victims - of which there are a great many - admit to his considerable personal charm and intelligence.

Now the man dubbed the "greatest conman of all time" and the "human headline" is once again on the run from police, officialdom and the media, his latest plans apparently in ruins and with only his mother there to leap to his defence.

Peter Foster, the Australian-born conman at the centre of the Cheriegate scandal four years ago, has gone missing somewhere in the Fijian islands of the South Pacific amid claims he was involved in an attempt to smear plans for a tourist hotel development. Local police have issued an arrest warrant for Foster, 44, and raided his rented villa on the island of Viti Levu - although he had already fled - while immigration officials want to question him over his tourist visa.

It is claimed that Foster and four local businessmen were responsible for creating websites, internet chat rooms and e-mails that suggested a planned New Zealand-backed resort development in the Yasawa islands was being marketed for homosexuals, with young Fijian boys available for sexual purposes. The developers were also said to have derided the Fijian people as "simple and stupid".

The aim of the campaign, it was alleged, was to persuade the Fijian government to stop the development and back one linked to Foster, said to have A$1m (£400,000) from Australian investors. In Foster's absence, his mother, Louise Polleti, said to be the only important influence in his life, sent a two-page letter to the Fiji Times, denying his involvement, saying he had never attempted to hide his background and maintaining he was "away on a scheduled business trip".

She added: "There is no proof or evidence produced to link him with the alleged false internet sites." His Fijian lawyer, Faiyaz Koya, also described it as "just newspaper reports".

Another lawyer close to him, Sean Cousins, an Australian barrister who was fined and almost disbarred because of his involvement with Foster in a diet pill company that fell foul of the regulatory authorities, is said to be staying at Foster's villa.

Kevueli Bulamainaivalu, an assistant commissioner of the Fijian police, said charges including impersonation, uttering forged documents and false representation were being considered. He said: "And as far as I'm concerned, Peter Foster is an illegal immigrant and Immigration is also looking for him."

Foster has been living on and off in Fiji for about six years. He was banned from the islands in 2002 for unsuccessfully backing the New Labour Unity Party, although he later returned on a tourist visa.

His interest in Fiji appears to be in pursuit of a long-term ambition, disclosed in the book, The Sting: True Stories of the World's Greatest Conmen, published in 2004. Foster told the author, Nigel Blundell, his aim was to find a small country, preferably among the Pacific islands, whose leader would be offered his expertise in boosting the economy. "He would do this for nothing in return for being granted ambassadorial status, so that he could hobnob with world politicians and travel the globe with diplomatic immunity," wrote Blundell.

Foster has never been short of confidence, despite his spells in prison in Britain, Australia and the United States for offences of forgery and impersonation involving diet aids. His fast talking has persuaded otherwise hard-headed businessmen to part with their cash. "He has a hypnotic effect on people," said one former associate.

Foster first came to prominence in Britain because of his relationship with the model Samantha Fox and a pyramid selling scandal involving a discredited slimming aid called Bai Lin Tea. He resurfaced in 2002 when he began a relationship with Carole Caplin, Cherie Blair's style and health adviser and offered himself as a "financial adviser" to Mrs Blair over the purchase of two flats in Bristol. Although there was never any evidence of wrongdoing, Foster's links with No 10 caused embarrassment, leading to Mrs Blair's having to issue a public apology.

It has long been speculated that information Foster gained during that period was being stored for future use. Blundell quotes another ex-associate: "Foster will be keeping all his information on Cherie Blair on a killer CD. That's what he always does."