Bankrupt Iraqi developer Bashar Al-Issa has been jailed for six years and five months for tax fraud after masterminding a fake £20m gangster film.
HM Revenue & Customs said the gang claimed the film, titled A Landscape of Lives, would star Hollywood stars but discovered it was only a cover to defraud HMRC of almost £1.5m in VAT and almost £1.3m in film tax credit claims.
The sentence is the first prosecution for film tax relief fraud, according to HMRC.
Issa, now based in London, was part of a gang found guilty by Southwark Crown Court and jailed for a total of 22 years.
Film producer Aoife Madden, 31, Tariq Hassan, 51, Ian Sherwood, 53, and Osama Al-Baghdady, 50, arranged for a script to be written and hired a cast to persuade investigators the project was authentic. They were all convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and were handed sentences ranging from three years and six months to four years and eight months. Sherwood was formerly a director of Manchester-based DS Hattrel One.
Issa owned a production company called Evolved Pictures and told auditors they had a large budget provided by a Jordanian company. The company claimed millions had been spent working on the project, which meant a VAT repayment of £1.48m was due.
HMRC said it found the work had not been done following an investigation.
Evolved Pictures also made fraudulent tax credit claims of £256,000 and was preparing to submit an additional claim for £1.03m.
Southwark Crown Court was told that HMRC investigators initially believed the film story and only became suspicious after tax credits of £1m had been claimed following payments between a series of companies controlled by the criminal gang.
Former Eastenders star Marc Bannerman, who played soap character Gianni di Marco, and Loose Women host Andrea McLean were recruited to take part in a promotional video, which is now on You Tube, believing the project was real.