LONDON (AP) — Five people were jailed Monday in Britain for pretending to make a Hollywood movie in a scam to defraud tax authorities of millions of pounds.
The fraudsters were convicted earlier this month of attempting to bilk the government of 2.8 million pounds ($4.2 million) in a plot reminiscent of the Academy Award-winning hit "Argo" — but without that movie's heroic hostage rescue.
Bashar Al-Issa, described as the leader of the fraud, was jailed for six and a half years on Monday. The four others in the group were sentenced to about four years each.
Prosecutors said the fraudsters claimed to be producing a made-in-Britain movie with unnamed A-list actors and a budget of 19 million pounds.
But officials say the project was a sham to claim almost 1.5 million pounds in goods and services tax for work that had not been done, as well as 1.3 million pounds under a government program that allows filmmakers to claim back up to 25 percent of their expenditures as tax relief.
Britain's tax agency said the filmmakers had submitted paperwork and received 1.7 million pounds when research 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 scam was detected, the gang hastily made a film called "A Landscape Of Lies" on a shoestring budget in a bid to cover it up. The movie was released straight to DVD in Britain in 2011. But that did not deter tax authorities.
Judge Juliet May said innocent actors were roped into the bogus project, never suspecting they were used to create a "realistic background" for the fraud.
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