Five jailed in Britain over movie tax scam

LONDON (AFP) - Five people were jailed for more than 20 years in Britain on Monday for pretending to make a Hollywood blockbuster to secure millions of pounds in tax breaks from the government.

They had told tax inspectors that their film, Landscape of Lives, had a budget of £19.6 million (S$37.25 million) and involved veteran British actor Jeremy Irons.

To lend credibility to the scam, an innocent writer was hired to pen the script and he was told it would be filmed in Egypt and would star Omar Sharif, Southwark Crown Court in London heard.

In fact, only seven minutes was ever shot and the footage, filmed in a flat at a cost of just several thousand pounds, was of "completely unusable quality", the court heard.

The fraudsters used fake documents to apply for special tax breaks for the film industry, submitting or preparing to submit claims worth £2.78 million, although they only received £800,000.

When they were arrested, the team hastily arranged for a different film entitled Landscape of Lies to be made on a shoestring in an attempt to cover the scam. It was released on DVD in 2011.

"This was an extraordinary scheme created to attack the public purse," said Ms Sue Patten, head of fraud at the Crown Prosecution Service.

"The defendants put in claims on a ghost film called Landscape of Lives with the sole intention of criminally exploiting a tax relief system designed to support the UK film industry."

There was no suggestion that Irons or Sharif were involved, or that the actors who did take part knew anything of the fraud.

Bashar Al-Issa, a 34-year-old former Iraqi national who is now British, orchestrated the scam and was sentenced to six and a half years in jail for cheating the public revenue.

Aoife Madden, a 31-year-old British and Irish actress, was sentenced to four years and eight months.

Two other members of the scam, Pakistani national Tariq Hassan and Iraqi national Osama Al Baghdady, were given four-year terms, while another, Ian Sherwood, received three and a half years.

Madden had pleaded guilty while her co-conspirators were convicted in a trial earlier this month.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.