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The charm and guile of Peter Foster, Queensland's international man of mischief

Insights

Ever wondered how Peter Foster continues to charm people out of their wealth? This may help explain it.

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When I met Peter Foster he was in Suva, Fiji’s grimy capital, a city that suited him.

It’s grubby, it’s sprawling and unkempt, but has a charm that is hard to shake.

It was a Hemingway-type existence for Foster, hardly Cuba, but there he was under army guard in the middle of another Fiji coup, which photographer Rob Maccoll and I had been sent to cover.

Formally, he was under house arrest pending charges for fraud over a hotel development that never happened.

In reality, he was still living large, comfortable in the knowledge that he would never spend time in a Fijian jail. Money didn’t seem an issue for someone who was technically under arrest.

The soldiers that were assigned to guard him were running errands for him or asleep in the corner. Foster was buying them meals and it was clear he had charmed them.

We had a few hours spare because the Frank Bainimarama coup d’etat had been stalled for a few days so a rugby match between the armed forces could be played. Then there was church on Sunday so we had until Monday before the takeover got serious and we needed a story to fill the gap.

Foster welcomed us in the foyer of the hotel. It was like he owned it.

He had a huge scar on his forehead where he claimed was the result of a police beating but which police claimed was the result of his mad swim for freedom in a Fijian river when his head struck an outboard motor.

His mother, Louise Poletti, was there. Foster did not inherit his charm from her, but they were clearly close. She complained bitterly about the way the media covered stories relating to her son’s life of crime.

Foster was not bitter. At one point, after several Fiji Bitters and colourful stories about his former girlfriend and English model Samantha Fox and former British PM Tony Blair, who Foster got into an awful amount of strife, I asked: “So, are you a crook?’’

Foster didn’t flinch. “The Bai Lin tea was real. Everything else I’m good for,’’ he said.

Bai Lin was a diet tea that he promoted early on in his criminal career.

He claimed one of closest friends was a former federal police officer who was among the first to arrest him, but most of the stories he regaled us with that night were far too defamatory to ever print. Entertaining, though.

He didn’t mind being thought of as a crook. It defined him and he was comfortable with that.

He had a story about being inside Number 10 Downing Street when former Australian PM John Howard arrived and how he was spirited out the back. At the time he was in a relationship with Cherie Blair’s fitness instructor and had got them all in hot water when he helped Mrs Blair buy properties in Bristol.

At the time he described himself as an international man of mischief.

He told us the story of spending a Christmas Eve with the Blairs at Number 10.

It will all fascinating but was it true?

In the end, Maccoll and I spent the next two weeks up to armpits in a coup. We never got back to Foster who was later transfered to Nadi, where he convinced one of his army guards to let him go. He jumped a yacht to Vanuatu.

He rang me to make sure I got back to Australia safely.

 

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