Peter Foster, the conman who embarrassed Blair, is jailed

The self-confessed conman Peter Foster faces four- and-a-half years in jail after pleading guilty to fraud in his home country of Australia. Foster, 44, was sentenced yesterday after a court in Brisbane heard how he used false documents to obtain a loan of A$300,000 (120,000) from the Bank of Federated States of Micronesia.

He had claimed to want the loan for a development project on a tourist resort in Fiji but, in fact, used it for other purposes including payments on his creditcards and his girlfriend's rent.

Foster, who has attempted a range of bogus marketing ploys including weight-loss and smoking remedies, "went to some lengths to perpetrate the fraud," Liz Wilson, for the prosecution, said.

Last October, Foster who has spent time in prison in Britain as well as the US and Australia was arrested after attempting to escape police by jumping into a river in his underpants.

The fraudster, who has described himself as a "human headline", was famously linked to Cherie Blair in 2002 when he allegedly helped her buy two flats while she was in Downing Street. He had "got to" the Blairs through his girlfriend at the time, Carole Caplin, who served as "lifestyle guru" to Mrs Blair.

Alastair Campbell's recently published diaries, The Blair Years, are riddled with hostile references to Foster and Ms Caplin. Mrs Blair was forced to admit contact with Foster after previous denials by Downing Street, leading to her making a statement declaring that she was "not Superwoman".

Last year, Foster was captured by Vanuatu police and convicted of illegally entering the country, but reportedly talked his way out of prison during a long lunch with jailors.

Mr Foster's conviction marks the climax of a life of fraud and fixing that has seen him frequently on the run from police.

Known as the "milkshake tycoon" in Australia, he became a boxing promoter in his teens, first clashing with the law after trying to claim insurance on a cancelled flight at the age of 20. He was fined 40,000, beginning a lifelong uphill struggle to stay in the black. Later he was declared bankrupt after failing to pay for advertising for a Muhammad Ali fight he was promoting but which never took place.

He tried to sell methods for giving up smoking before marketing Bai Lin tea through his one-time girlfriend Samantha Fox, the British topless model. Police investigated the product but he escaped prosecution after first fleeing Britain in 1988. Returning to the UK in 1994, he was fined 21,000 for "trade description offences" of the tea.

The following year, he was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of conspiring to supply slimming granules in breach of trading standard regulations.

He was later absconded while on day release from prison, and re-emerged in Australia, where he claimed to have worked undercover for security services in Britain, placing his life in danger.

Fighting extradition, he sent a three-hour long tape to Downing Street from his Brisbane police cell, declaring: "I'm no angel. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. I keep wishing I could turn the clock back."

After being returned to Britain, he was sentenced to 33 months in jail in 2000 but was freed immediately on the grounds that he had spent 18 months in an Australian prison while he and his lawyers were fighting the extradition.

Before his most recent arrest, Mr Foster was asked by Australia's Southern Cross Broadcasting if he was a cheat, a conman and a liar. He replied with some candour: "Yeah, I suppose so."

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