Film fraudsters jailed over tax scam
Five people who pretended to make a Hollywood blockbuster as part of a £2.8m tax scam have been jailed for a total of more than 20 years.
Bashar Al-Issa, from London, who was jailed for six-and-a-half years, said he was making a £20m gangster film to claim tax credits and VAT repayments.
The team then duped tax inspectors for a year with fake scripts and documents.
Passing sentence, the judge said the team had embarked on an "entirely bogus film project".
"This was a sophisticated, detailed fraudulent project involving the deployment of considerable amounts of false documentation," Judge Juliet May said.
Also jailed was actress Aoife Madden, from London, who was sentenced to four years and eight months for her part in submitting a "pack of lies" to inspectors about the project.
Tariq Hassan, from Essex, and Osama Al Baghdady, from Manchester, both received four-year jail sentences, while a fifth defendant, Ian Sherwood, from Cheshire, was jailed for three-and-a-half years for allowing his offices to be used for the fraud.
Handing Al-Issa his jail term, the judge said: "I could not decide whether you were a fantasist who truly believed you were making a £19.6m film, or whether you were laughing up your sleeve at the naivety of a system that encourages UK film-making."
Inspectors had been told that Hollywood A-listers, including Jeremy Irons, would be starring in the production to be shot in the UK.
However the film, titled Landscape of Lives, was never made and the only footage shot was seven minutes deemed to be of "completely unusable quality", filmed in a flat.
The gang then attempted to cover their tracks by shooting a low budget thriller, which was given a new version of the original title, Landscape of Lies.
It starred Loose Women host Andrea McLean and former EastEnders actor Marc Bannerman.
The film was released on DVD in 2011.
The gang fraudulently claimed some £2,781,910 in tax rebates between April 2010 and April 2011 before officials became suspicious.
Prosecutor Rebecca Chalkley said the gang's scheme was purposely designed to "steal money from the public purse".
None of the money has been recovered, although a hearing will take place later this year to discuss whether to confiscate any of the defendants' assets.
All four men had denied the fraud charges, claiming the tax credit applications were made in good faith with the aim of making the movie.
Ms Madden admitted the fraud charges against her.