Television stars, including Ant and Dec, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Paxman, alongside celebrities such as David Beckham have found themselves in a film tax relief scam declared by the HMRC to be a tax avoidance scheme. Orchestrated by Ingenious Media, a film production company responsible for financing numerous blockbuster films and more than 150 television programmes. HMRC branded the scheme run by Ingenious Media as tax avoidance scam, where investors’ liabilities could be offset against movie industry losses. The tax avoidance scheme relied on a film tax relief, which was introduced by the New Labour government, to encourage growth of the British film industry. Any losses made during the course of a legitimate film production could be reclaimed by film production companies, from HMRC.
Ingenious Media is a prolific and well-established film production company. The company has been responsible for a number of chart-topping successes, which include Life of Pi, Avatar, numerous films belonging to the X-Men franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and British productions such as Suffragette and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Alongside film production, Ingenious Media also specialise in television, under the name Ingenious Broadcasting. With a total of 150 television productions to its credit, Ingenious Broadcasting has worked closely with production and distribution partners including BBC Worldwide, Hat Trick Productions and World Productions.
Tax Relief Scam: Tax Avoidance
The Limited Liability Partnership established by Ingenious Media which involved hundreds of television stars and celebrities was promoted to high-net worth investors. Following an initial trial in 2016, HMRC issued multi-million-pound bills to some of Ingenious’ clients. After the most recent trial, the total outstanding tax bill stands at over £450 million.
Featuring in a film ironically entitled A Landscape of Lies, Loose Women’s Andrea McLean and ex-Eastender Mark Bannerman have found themselves in a film tax relief fraud, busted by HM Revenue and Customs. Duped by fraudsters into appearing in the film, the television personalities were oblivious to the film producers’ intentions. Starring alongside the Loose Women presenter and former Eastenders actor were television stars including Lucinda Rhodes-Flaherty, Daniel Peacock, Andre Samson and Christina Bailly. Written and directed by Paul Knight, the film won a Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival. However, the award was withdrawn after it emerged that the movie was part of a film tax relief fraud scheme.
The film, starring the television personalities, was hastily produced after HMRC had discovered a film tax relief scam. Led by Bashar al-Issa, the team of fraudsters belonged to bogus production company Evolved Pictures. Also part of the tax relief scam were Aoife Madden, Tariq Hassan, Ian Sherwood and Osama al-Baghdady. The team of fraudsters filed for film tax relief from HMRC, claiming to have spent £19 million provided by a Jordanian company. False tax relief claims were valued respectively at £1.5 million, approximately £250,000 and approximately £1 million. The HMRC investigation found that while no work had been carried out to produce a film, the real intent was to defraud the public purse, exploiting a tax relief scheme designed to support the British film industry.
After the film tax relief scam was discovered by HMRC, the gang of fraudsters hastily arranged to produce a film to cover their tracks. Unwitting British television actors, such as Andrea McLean and Mark Bannerman, were roped into the scheme. John Ponting, assistant director and HMRC’s criminal investigations department proclaimed, “Falsely claiming VAT that is not due is illegal, so we are pleased that instead of this film flop going straight to DVD, these small-screen z-listers could go straight to jail.”
Countryfile and former Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton, 36, was defrauded of her lifesavings in cruel push payment scam. The television presenter revealed that she was victim to the scam, as she embarked on producing a documentary for ITV. In the documentary, she has decided to share the full details of her experience so as to demonstrate how easily people can fall into the fraudsters trap. During public discussions of her unfortunate experience, the former Blue Peter presenter has described how she felt “embarrassed” and was lulled by the perpetrators who seemed so “nice and genuine.”
The scam involved fraudsters contacting the popular television presenter and claiming that suspicious and fraudulent activity was taxing place on her bank account. Lulled by words of reassurance, Skelton has spoken of how the cruel trap was set. “I remember the guy told me not to feel stupid, it was happening all the time and this particular scam was even foxing their best security people.” However, as her bank account was emptied of thousands, reality soon dawned on the fraud victim. Over a period of days, as she watched her bank balance dwindle, the television presenter realised the call was not from the bank, but from fraudsters stealing her cash.
Push payment scams involve fraudsters convincing their victims to hand over their bank details and thereby wilfully relinquish control of their bank accounts. In these scams, the fraudsters’ trick is especially cruel as banks refuse to payback any of the victims’ money. Left unentitled to any of her money back, Helen was left deeply upset. “I cried buckets when I realised. That money was meant to be for my children’s future. I was thinking of my kids, and about how I would have to work even more and not see them to try to get it back,” the television star lamented.