Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Film title gave away the plot

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LONDON -- The clue was in the title.

In some ways A Landscape of Lies was a typical indie film, with a tiny budget, a B-list cast and an award from an American film festival.

What made it special is that it was created solely to cover up a huge tax fraud.

Five people in Britain face jail sentences after being convicted this week of attempting to bilk the government of Çä2.8 million (US$4.2 million) in a moviemaking scam reminiscent of Academy Award-winning hit Argo -- without the heroic hostage rescue.

Prosecutors and tax authorities say the fraudsters claimed to be producing a made-in-Britain movie with unnamed A-list actors and a Çä19-million budget supplied by a Jordanian firm.

In fact, officials say, the project was a sham, set up to claim almost Çä1.5 million in goods and services tax for work that had not been done, as well as Çä1.3 million under a government program that allows filmmakers to claim back up to 25 per cent of their expenditure as tax relief.

Britain's tax agency, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, said that the filmmakers had submitted paperwork and already received Çä1.7 million when cheques revealed "that the work had not been done and most of the so-called suppliers and film studios had never heard of the gang."

The self-described movie producers were arrested on suspicion of tax fraud in April 2011 -- and decided their best shot at avoiding criminal charges was to hastily make a film.

They hired a true-crime writer to write and direct A Landscape of Lies, described in its Internet Movie Database entry as a crime thriller about a Gulf War veteran out for justice for a murdered comrade.

A Landscape of Lies was released straight to DVD in Britain in 2011. But it did garner some fans, winning a commendation called a Silver Ace award at last year's Las Vegas Film Festival.

That wasn't enough to deter the tax authorities. Five producers from various parts of Britain -- Bashar Al-Issa, Aoife Madden, Tariq Hassan, Ian Sherwood and Osama Al Baghdady -- were convicted Tuesday of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue at London's Southwark Crown Court. They will be sentenced March 25.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 G5

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