| Cherie Blair and Asma al-Assad at 10 Downing Street, London, on Monday. (AFP)
London, Dec. 16 (Reuters): Britain tuned in today for the latest chapter in a titillating saga involving the Prime Minister’s wife and a convicted conman as the fraudster had his own crack at killing off a story that refuses to die.
But a statement by Australian Peter Foster, who has been convicted for peddling bogus slimming drugs and is facing deportation, left lingering questions over Cherie Blair’s involvement in his deportation case.
As “Cheriegate” entered its third week, Foster thanked Cherie, a high-profile lawyer and a part-time judge, for giving him “innocent” legal advice.
“I did not seek anything in return, although I remain appreciative of the later, innocent advice given to me, by Cherie,” Foster said.
“At no time did she seek to interfere with the legal processes, nor did I ask her to,” he added. “Cherie simply passed on to me a professional view of where I stood on the case,” he told a news conference that almost upstaged that of Prime Minister Tony Blair with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Revelations over Cherie’s dealings with Foster, the boyfriend of her New Age style guru Carole Caplin, have dominated the news since it emerged that Foster helped Cherie buy property in Bristol, where the Blairs’ son is at college.
But it is the Blairs’ handling of the affair that has given it such a long shelf life. Cherie only admitted that Foster had helped her buy the property after leaked e-mails showed his involvement, and after the government’s spokesmen had denied he had been involved.
Cherie also only admitted to phoning Foster’s lawyers to ask about his deportation after lawyers mentioned the call.
Cherie appealed for public sympathy and apologised for making mistakes in an unprecedented statement last week but the affair has damaged the credibility of the government’s press machine and raised questions about her judgment.
It later emerged that papers on Foster’s deportation proceedings had been faxed to Cherie’s home but Caplin and the government said Cherie had not looked at them. Foster is wanted in Australia in connection with a weight loss scam.
Given the string of half-truths, all eyes were on Foster.
Foster said he had held three telephone calls with Cherie.
He said he had helped to knock £69,000 off the price of the property, adding that “as far as I was concerned I was simply a friend helping a friend.”
In a statement similar in form to Cherie’s last week, Foster said he had been the victim of character assassination and apologised to the Blairs.
“I apologise to Tony and Cherie for the mess a little help from your friends can get you into,” he said, adding that he had turned down invitations to meet the Blairs.
He dismissed allegations that he had begun dating Caplin to get close to the Blairs, saying he was “nuts” about the former topless model who advises Cherie on fashion and health.