In 2011, a military conspiracy thriller called A Landscape Of Lies was released on DVD. The story behind it is far more fantastic than that in the film itself, and has now led to five people being convicted for fraud in the first successful prosecution relating to the film tax relief fund.
Eye For Film has previously reported on concerns about scams involving this fund, which is designed to help get more British productions into cinemas and increase employment for UK-based film support businesses. This scam, though, was remarkable in its audacity. It centred on a company called Evolved Pictures which was supposedly working on a top end production starring Hollywood A-listers. The producers - Bashar Al-Issa, Aoife Madden, Tariq Hassan, Ian Sherwood and Osama Al Baghdady - claimed to be spending over £19M on their film, meaning they were entitled to over £1M in VAT repayments. They also fraudulently sought over £250,000 in tax credits and were preparing to submit a further, much larger claim. But when suspicions arose about the Jordanian backers they had invented, HMRC decided to invesigate, and that's when things got desperate.
Aware that investigations would reveal they hadn't done the work and had no film, the producers decided to make one as quickly and as cheaply as possible - in fact, it had a total budget of just £84,000. They recruited Le Fear star Andre Samson to play the lead and filled out their cast with TV soap opera stars. The scam fell through when HMRC agents spoke to suppliers and support companies they claimed to have worked with and confirmed that their expenses had been fabricated. The film, meanwhile, was a flop in the UK but went on to win an award in Las Vegas.
"This gang thought they could exploit rules for genuine British filmmakers and thieve from the public purse for their own gain," said HMRC's John Pointing. "They were wrong as HMRC will not stand by and let that happen."