First fraud convictions made for film industry reliefs

A GANG FOUND GUILTY OF A £2.8M TAX SCAM has been handed jail terms after they became the first people convicted of defrauding the British Film Commission’s tax relief scheme.

Aoife Madden (pictured), Tariq Hassan, Ian Sherwood, Bashar Al-Issa, and Osama Al-Baghdady devised a bogus film – which they called A Landscape of Lies – in an attempt to dupe the taxman into handing over tax relief designed to encourage the British film industry.

Falsely claiming the “gritty” gangster film would cost around £20m to make and backed by Jordanian benefactors, the filmmakers applied for £2.8m in reliefs, comprising a VAT repayment of £1,488,187, plus fraudulent tax credit claims of £256,385.50 and a further claim of £1,033,337.

HMRC acquiesced – provided its investigators could see the film.

Realising they faced being discovered, the gang put together a script and cast including, among others, Loose Women‘s Andrea McLean and former Eastenders actor Marc Bannerman.

Despite having hastily made a film they never sought to make, their tale of a “seedy world of power, lies and betrayal” won a Silver Ace award at last year’s Las Vegas Film Festival, but the gang’s fraud was detected and they were convicted.

Madden pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years and five months in prison, reduced to four years and eight months; Hassan and Al-Baghdady received four years; Sherwood faces three-and-a-half years; while Al-Issa received the lengthiest stretch at six years and five months.

HMRC assistant director of Criminal Investigation John Pointing said: “This gang thought they could exploit rules for genuine British filmmakers and thieve from the public purse for their own gain. They were wrong.

“Falsely claiming VAT that is not due is illegal – so we are pleased that instead of this film flop going straight to DVD, these small-screen Z-listers are going straight to jail.”

You can watch the trailer for A Landscape of Lies here.

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