Five fraudsters who pretended they were making a film backed by Hollywood A-listers as part of a £2.8m tax scam have been jailed.
The group had told inspectors that top actors would be starring in a £19.6m movie called Landscape Of Lives, which would be shot in the UK.
They claimed nearly £3m in VAT and tax credits designed to help genuine British filmmakers and succeeded in cheating taxpayers out of nearly £1m.
But officials grew suspicious when the only footage produced was seven minutes of “completely unusable quality”, Southwark Crown Court, in central London, heard.
To cover their tracks, the fraudsters quickly set about making a film on a shoestring budget of £84,000 called A Landscape of Lies, drafting in unwitting actors and filmmakers.
That production went on to win a prize at the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival.
The film, released on DVD in 2011, included among its cast former EastEnders actor Marc Bannerman and television presenter Andrea McLean – neither of whom played any part in the fraud.
Bashar Al Issa, 34, a former Iraqi national who is now British, of Rodney Court, Maida Vale, London, described as the orchestrator of the fraud, was jailed for six-and-a-half years by Judge Juliet May.
Actor Aoife Madden, 31, a British and Irish national, of Maclise Road, west London, said to have submitted a “pack of lies” to inspectors about the project, was sentenced to four years and eight months.
At one stage Madden had said she was related to the actor Sinead Cusack and was “going to use this to try to get her husband Jeremy Irons involved”, prosecutor Rebecca Chalkley told the court.
Defending Madden, Selva Ramasamy said she had been motivated by “her desire to pursue her calling in the arts. It sadly led to her downfall”.
Tariq Hassan, 52, a Pakistani national, of Willingale Road, Loughton, Essex, and Osama Al Baghdady, 51, an Iraqi national of Lowther Road, Crumpsall, Manchester, were each jailed for four years.
A fifth defendant, architect Ian Sherwood, 53, of Esher Drive, Sale, Manchester, who allowed his offices to be used for the fraud, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years.
Judge May said the fraud had been based on an “entirely bogus film project”.
Sue Patten, head of fraud at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was an extraordinary scheme created to attack the public purse.”