Serial conman Peter Foster – a central figure in the notorious Cheriegate affair – was arrested yesterday over an alleged million-pound scam.
Undercover police officers posing as joggers tackled the 57-year-old to the ground and handcuffed him as he walked his dogs on a beach in Queensland, Australia.
The convicted crook, who helped Cherie Blair purchase two flats at a discounted price in 2002, is alleged to have run a sports betting scam which saw investors, including some in the UK, lose tens of thousands.
Private investigator Ken Gamble, who tracked Foster to the town of Port Douglas, said he struggled and ‘let out a few screams’ as the handcuffs were slapped on. Detectives were last night going through Foster’s rented two-bedroom villa there and had seized computer equipment.
Foster is said to have claimed to use experts to place bets after setting up an Asia-based company called Sport Predictions. Police will allege the £1million invested was diverted to Foster, using the alias Bill Dawson, the bets were never placed and the money was laundered through New South Wales.
Sports Predictions is allegedly a copy of Foster’s previous multi-million-dollar con, Sports Trading Company, for which he served 12 months behind bars in Australia for trading under a false name.
Foster is notorious for his role in the 2002 Cheriegate scandal in which he helped Cherie Blair to buy two flats in Bristol for their children at a substantial discount. Foster was dating Carole Caplin, Mrs Blair’s style guru, at the time.
Mrs Blair at first denied his involvement in the deal but was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn days later after the Daily Mail published emails between them where she described him as a ‘star’.
She made a public apology saying she had been unaware of Foster’s criminal background and blaming the pressures of trying to protect her family for the ‘misunderstanding’.
In his latest alleged scam, a podcast called King of Sting taped ‘Bill Dawson’ telling a would-be investor that Sports Predictions was a fool-proof money-spinner as he asked for a minimum investment of more than £35,000.
On the recording, Dawson says of his ‘expert mathematician’: ‘I always say he wouldn’t know the difference between a cricket ball and a soccer ball if it hit him on the head, but he’s a numbers man and he’s a statistics man and he’s very good at crunching the numbers.’
Mr Gamble – of IFW Global, which investigates internet fraud worldwide – tracked Foster after being approached by a businessman who believed he had been the victim of an elaborate fraud.
‘The voice of the man calling himself Bill Dawson is, in my mind, unmistakably Peter Foster,’ Mr Gamble said.
The private detective kept the fraudster under surveillance for a month before tipping off the police about his alleged betting scam and his whereabouts. They then took over the surveillance.
After being allowed to return to his villa, where he changed into a Hawaiian shirt, Foster was bundled into a police car, mumbling: ‘This wasn’t necessary.’
His dramatic early-morning arrest on Four Mile Beach came as the Mail learned that he had been negotiating the purchase of a luxury yacht. ‘He knew that his freedom was running short,’ said a source close to the investigation.
‘He is believed to have been planning an escape by sea to head for one of the island nations in the Pacific. It looks like that dream isn’t going to happen. Instead, if he’s convicted of an alleged string of conning offences he’s going to be sitting in a cell.’ Australian businessman Dennis Walker, along with his wife Jan, revealed he lost £100,000 after helping to set up Sports Predictions.
Mr Walker said he invested the couple’s life savings on the promise of becoming the firm’s chief executive and set up bank accounts all over the world, aimed at attracting unsuspecting investors and punters on the promise they could not lose. Mr Walker, who lost everything, said: ‘To be honest, it’s gut-wrenching. Sports Predictions was a company Foster wanted me to set up. We were opening accounts in Singapore, Hong Kong and Great Britain. Our money evaporated.’
The career criminal has served time for fraud around the world, including in Britain, the US, Australia and the Pacific islands. He had previously duped model Samantha Fox and Sarah Ferguson into promoting the alleged weight-loss qualities of a tea.
He also sold business franchises to investors allowing them to sell slimming tablets which, just like the tea, failed to work. Many people lost their money.
In June, Foster told the Sydney Morning Herald his reputation was ‘putrid’, but that he was ‘a changed man’. He is expected to be transferred to New South Wales within days to face fraud charges
Can it be only last month that Peter Foster, regretful and newly contemplative, declared himself to be a reformed character?
A month ago the serial conman said he was writing his memoirs in an act of catharsis that would set him on the path to a better sort of life.
As he told me when I interviewed him, his wheeler-dealer days were over. He was enjoying a quiet, simple, bachelor life, in his late mother’s house on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Fast-forward six weeks and it’s already gone wrong. Yesterday’s arrest took place on a remote stretch of beach in Port Douglas, Queensland, where Foster was out walking his two chihuahua crosses, Luigina and Che Che.
Sitting on the sand, in handcuffs, there was a look of resignation on his face that has not been there before. Perhaps, this time, the game really is up.
According to reports in Australia, it seems that Foster left his home on the Gold Coast after becoming aware that the police were on to him.
A friend tells the Mail that it is believed he moved out about four weeks ago, drove up to Port Douglas, more than 1,000 miles away, and took a three-month rental on a property.
It has been reported that Foster was planning to flee Australia in a yacht. But a friend says this cannot be the case.
‘That is bull****,’ explains the friend. ‘He would not have left under our current corona regulations, they would have busted him straight up.’
While those he has defrauded over the years may say he deserves no better – he is alleged to have set up a bogus sports company as a front to scam money – Foster’s friend is critical of the arrest.
‘Peter is old, overweight and unfit, he was walking his dogs on the beach, and the police acted out a very dramatic arrest, dressed as joggers, and surfers, and beachgoers, and then executed a wild tackle on Peter as he was walking. All for the TV crew in attendance.’
As well as declaring he now wanted ‘to lead a better sort of life’ last month, Foster talked about the events that led to so-called Cheriegate.
When the drama unfolded back in 2002, Peter Foster had already acquired a degree of infamy for his Bai Lin Tea which he had asserted was an ‘ancient Chinese diet secret’ – but was later found to be just green tea.
Back then, he was going out with Carole Caplin, fitness trainer to the Blairs, whose constant presence at the couple’s side was a source of fascination and perplexity to political observers.
Mrs Blair wanted to buy two flats in Bristol, and was keen to secure a discount. Foster, was enlisted to do the job on her behalf. On his 40th birthday in September 2002, he says he and Carole were whisked through Downing Street security to collect a present Cherie wanted to give him.
‘It was late and Cherie was in bed, so Carole collected it. It was a black attache case, with my initials on it, the same one, Carole told me, that they’d given as a gift to President George W Bush.’
The sale of the flats went through. The Blairs ended up paying £262,000 for each property – a favourable discount of £69,000 in total. Unfortunately a newspaper got hold of the story which led to the Blairs initially denying his involvement, then admitting it.
As far as Foster was concerned, he found his services were no longer required by the Blairs and within weeks was on a plane back to Australia.
Recollecting the episode in his interview last month, Foster indicated that his brush with the Blairs was one of the more difficult episodes of his life.
‘I absolutely regret ever getting involved with the Blairs.’ The feeling, we can be sure, is mutual. Back in Australia, Foster was now 18,000 miles away from the Blairs, but it wasn’t far enough.
He continued to generate headlines regarding this scam or that scam, and, inevitably, each report was invariably accompanied by a neat summary of Cheriegate.
There were spells in jail. One dramatic arrest took place in 2014 when he was taken unawares putting out the bins at another address in Byron Bay, New North South Wales, while on the run.
By 2016, Foster was promoting a diet spray called SensaSlim. It sounded promising, its miracle properties having been validated by the Swiss Institut de Recherche Intercontinental, no less.
Sadly, investigators later discovered that the Institut was a fictitious construct.
Foster was last jailed after using alias Mark Hughes to secure investment for an offshore betting business. After his release in 2018, he appeared to have settled down to a quieter sort of life, caring for his elderly mother, Louise, a former real estate agent who died aged 88 in May this year.
Last month, he announced he was a changed man.
But then, just a few weeks later, Michele Deakin, a 51-year-old former Young Slimmer of the Year, told the Mail that Foster had seduced her.
She claimed she met him aged 19, he introduced her to the high life, proposed to her, got her pregnant and then promptly vanished when police began investigating another business he had set up.
She said her twin girls, Rachael and Rebecca, she gave birth to in February 1991, are his.
Foster denies this and told the Mail: ‘Unless I sh***ed her from 18,000 miles then it’s complete bull****,’ claiming he has also offered to take a DNA test.
Soon afterwards, he drove up to Port Douglas, scene of the latest arrest. It follows reported claims by private investigator, Ken Gamble, that he has been alerted to fresh accusations of a betting scam by ‘a businessman in Asia’.
Ken Gamble is Foster’s nemesis: the investigator has been after him for years. Indeed, Gamble claimed on Australian TV in June that that Foster had once planned to hire a hitman to kill him.
‘This was first said five years ago,’ Foster said last month. ‘It was false then and it’s false now. It was investigated and no one was arrested.’
So, Foster has never planned murder. But are the gambling allegations true?
Well, even Peter Foster is innocent until found guilty. But if you were a betting person…