Andrew M. Potts reports on a scam which has resulted in an increase in hostility towards the gay community in Fiji.

Peter Foster, the disgraced Australian businessman who nearly brought down the Blairs in the so-called Cheriegate property scandal, has been accused of launching a homophobic smear campaign against a tourist development in Fiji which has lead to calls by Fijian Christian fundamentalists to remove clauses in the nation’s constitution which give limited protection to gays and lesbians.

Other colonial era laws still outlaw sex between men, as an Australian tourist, Thomas McCosker found out while holidaying in Fiji last year.

Mr McCosker and a local man were imprisoned for six months before being freed after the Fijian High Court found their conviction had been unconstitutional.

Fijian Christian groups have been calling for the protections to be removed since then but the impetus to do so had petered out until the Fiji Times newspaper ran a series of exposes through September on Champaigne Beach, a planned “gay only” resort which was to be opened by two New Zealand businessmen, barrister Evan Williams and property developer Andy Lowe.

The paper was tipped off in mid September when a mysterious bundle of photocopied documents containing copies of internet chat room conversations, personal emails, and articles from gay travel websites, was delivered to it’s offices anonymously.

The material included printed copies of emails which appeared to show that one of the businessmen had bribed an official at Fiji’s Native Land Trust Board, which regulates developments on land owned by indigenous Fijian groups.

Copies of other online conversations seemed to show that paedophiles were planning to operate through the development, with a man who was supposedly linked to the development saying that boys “as young as you want them” could be obtained and that “for $100 a day a Fijian boy will do anything and tell nobody. The Fijians are a very simple people. Stupid really.”

However, the Fiji Times has since discovered that it was duped and that these photocopied documents were in fact, rather unsophisticated forgeries aimed at stirring up homophobic opposition to the resort.

Mr Foster had also paid a local man to go to the offices of the paper, who falsely claimed to represent indigenous landowners, saying that they had been conned by the New Zealanders and would never had agreed to lease them the land had they known it was to be for a gay only resort.

This man has since been described by the local Turaga people who own the land as a “stooge”, with a Turaga chief claiming Foster had offered him 10 million Australian dollars to go against the New Zealanders’ lease agreement in order to assist him in taking control of the beach front property for his own planned development.

In fact the Turaga support the Champaigne Beach development and it has never been intended to be exclusively gay or excluding to heterosexuals.

The Fiji Times now claims that Foster was previously unsuccessful in obtaining a lease on a neighbouring parcel of land and it seems he then planned to take advantage of the homophobic campaign being run by the country’s staunchly conservative Methodist Church and the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF) to unseat the New Zealanders in order to make the land available to him.

The ACCF has the support of 20 different Christian denominations and 13 other non-Christian groups in it’s campaign to recriminalise homosexuality, and claim that homosexuals will bring problems such as “drugs, rape as a result of drunkenness, marriage of the same sex, and stealing” to the island.

Mr Foster had allegedly already taken $1.5 million Australian dollars from two investors for his own planned development, despite not yet having any legal claim to the land.

This is not the first time that Foster has used his finances to influence politics in Fiji, becoming the largest financial contributor to the breakaway Fijian New Labour Unity Party in 2001 following that year’s military coup.

Mr Foster moved to Fiji in 2001 after being convicted by the UK’s Serious Frauds Office of using forged documents to falsify his credit rating by claiming he had millions of pounds in his bank account.

However for Fiji’s gays and lesbians the damage has been done, and despite Foster’s con being revealed, the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji has no plans to back down in their campaign to strip them of their rights.

Peter Foster and four associates are now being sought by Fijian Police on a range of charges.