Five people in Britain are facing jail after they were convicted of attempting to scam the UK government out of $4.2 million ($2.8 million) by pretending to make a movie, in a plot reminiscent of the Academy Award winning Argo — if you substitute tax fraud for a hostage rescue.
The bold plan to defraud the British government took place in 2011 but only recently came to trial. Five UK producers based in the UK — Bashar Al-Issa, Aoife Madden, Tariq Hassan, Ian Sherwood, and Osama Al Baghdady — were convicted on conspiracy to commit tax fraud at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
They will be sentenced on March 25.
Prosecutors and tax authorities say the fraudsters claimed to be producing a movie with unnamed A-list actors and a $28 million (£19 million) budget from a Jordanian company.
In fact, the project was a sham, set up to hide a tax fraud of almost $2.26 (£1.5 million) in goods and services tax for work that had not been done, as well as an additional $1.96 (£1.3 million) under a government scheme that allows filmmakers to claim back up to 25 percent of their expenditure as tax relief.
British tax agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, said the filmmakers had submitted paperwork and already received $2.5 6 (£1.7 million) before checks revealed “that the work had not been done and most of the so-called suppliers and film studios had never heard of the gang.”
When the self-described movie producers were arrested in April 2011, they decided their best hope of avoiding criminal charges was to hastily make a film.
Real-life crime writer, Paul Knight, was hired to write and direct A Landscape of Lies which is even described in its Internet Movie Database (IMDb) entry as a crime thriller about a Gulf War veteran looking to get justice for a murdered comrade.
Just like Argo — where the CIA rescued a group of US embassy workers from Iran during the hostage crisis of 1979 by enlisting them as crew and cast in a sci-fi movie — the real life British fraudsters also made and promoted A Landscape of Lies as if the film was the reason for their involvement.
The production was announced in film magazines. Advertisements, posters, a screenplay were produced. Acting roles were cast and even announced in The Sun, a British newspaper. It should be noted that neither Knight or the actors were accused of knowing about the tax fraud.
A Landscape of Lies was duly released straight to DVD in Britain in 2011 and even won a Silver Ace award at the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival.
But the tax authorities weren’t fooled. After the five aforementioned so-called producers were arrested in April, the case proceeded to trial. Tax officials said the case marked the agency’s first-ever prosecution for film-tax fraud.
“We are pleased that instead of this film flop going straight to DVD, these small-screen z-listers could go straight to jail,” said John Pointing, the revenue agency’s assistant director of criminal investigation, with a straight face.