A Northern Irish producer is among a group of five jailed for a $4.2 million tax fraud, which they attempted to cover-up by making the indie movie “A Landscape of Lies.” In a major plot twist the low-budget movie, with a B-list cast, went on to win an award at an American film festival before the scam’s cover was blown.
Five producers from various parts of Britain - Bashar Al-Issa, Tariq Hassan, Ian Sherwood, Osama Al Baghdady and Aoife Madden, from Newry, County Antrim - have been sentenced to jail time. Madden will spend four years and eight months in prison, the others sentences vary.
The team had told the British government they were producing a made-in-Britain movie, with A-list actors and a $28.8 million budget, financed by a Jordanian firm. In a plot worthy of Ben Affleck’s recent award-winning movie “Argo,” the movie was a sham.
The Telegraph reported that Madden (31), an actress-turned-teacher, had claimed she was related to Irish actress Sinead Cusack. She even said she could get Jeremy Irons involved in the production.
Madden claimed she had an office in London’s Harley Street, however this was just an empty room. She also successfully scammed the government into thinking that the movie was being made,4 showing them footage that was filmed in her apartment.
The sham movie was set up to claim nearly $2.27 million in goods and services tax for work that was not being done, along with $1.97 million as part of a government program, which allows filmmakers to claim back 25 percent of their expenditure as tax relief.
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, Britain's tax agency, said the con-artists had already received $2.58 million before the agency’s checks showed “that the work had not been done and most of the so-called suppliers and film studios had never heard of the gang,” the Huffington Post reports.
In April 2011 the five movie producers were arrested on suspicion of tax fraud. Instead of coming clean they set about making a movie, quickly.
Paul Knight, a true-crime writer, was hired to write and direct the movie “A Landscape of Lies.” The movie’s IMDB page describes the plot as a crime thriller following a vet “haunted by the memories of his time in the Gulf war” trying “to adjust to civilian life aided mainly by his friendship with his commanding officer.”
Andrea McLean, one of the hosts of chat show “Loose Women” and Marc Bannerman, formerly of soap, “Eastenders,” were both cast in the movie. The cast and crew all believed they were involved in a legitimate low-budget movie. They are not accused of any involvement in the fraud.
The movie went straight to DVD in Britain in 2011 and won a Silver Ace award at last year's Las Vegas Film Festival.
Prosecution, Rebecca Chalkey, said of Madden, “The prosecution accepts that at the outset she wanted to make a film and may have believed this was a genuine project. There came a point, however, when that changed."
She added, "This was not a film production. It was a charade. The whole purpose was to steal money from the public purse."
Here’s the trailer for “A Landscape of Lies”:
Here Paul Knight, the director and writer of the movie, talks about how proud he is of the movie and how he and the cast and crew knew nothing about the scam: