Friday 23 February 2018

Irish actress jailed over her starring role in film tax scam

Martha Linden

A GLAMOROUS Irish actress who told a "pack of lies" to the authorities by pretending to make a Hollywood blockbuster in a multi-million pound tax scam has been jailed in London.

Fraudster Aoife Madden (31) was sentenced to four years and eight months for helping mastermind a plot that involved shooting a fake film – the aptly named 'A Landscape Of Lies'.

She had duped industry insiders into believing she was behind a potential movie hit that would involve award-winning stars Omar Sharif and Jeremy Irons.

The complex scam involving the Newry actress-turned-film-producer – a niece of Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy – and four others was dreamt up in order to pocket £2.8m (€3.3m) in VAT and film tax credits.

The aspiring star, who holds dual Irish and British citizenship, was yesterday sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in central London. Prosecutors said she had played an important organisational role in the fraud.

The Co Down woman pleaded guilty at the start of the trial to two charges of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue between April 2010 and April 2011 related to VAT repayments and film tax credits.

Tax inspectors had been told that A-listers from Hollywood would be starring in a £19.6m (€23m) production that would be shot in the UK.

But the film was never made and the only footage shot was seven minutes of "completely unusable quality" filmed in a flat and costing just £5,000 (€5,900).

Judge Juliet May said the fraud had been based on an "entirely bogus film project".

After their plot was discovered and they were arrested, the fraudsters hastily made a film called 'A Landscape Of Lies' on a shoestring budget in a bid to cover up the scam, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Madden, who had moved to Maclise Road in west London to pursue her dreams of hitting it big in the film industry, hired Stuart Knight, an innocent scriptwriter who had no idea of the fraud, in January 2010.

In an email in April 2010 he was told that shooting would take place in Egypt and that Omar Sharif would play one of the characters in the film, prosecutor Rebecca Chalkley told the court.

Ms Chalkley said that among a series of false claims submitted in support of the scam was a statement that they had secured the services of 'Dr Who' director Colin Teague and his contract had been finalised.

Ms Chalkley said the claim was "simply fantasy".

Commitment

At one stage Madden had said that she was related to the actor Sinead Cusack and was "going to use this to try to get her husband Jeremy Irons involved", Ms Chalkley said.

"There was no truth in either of those individuals being involved in the project," Ms Chalkley told the court.

The movie, released straight to DVD in 2011, included among its cast former 'EastEnders' actor Marc Bannerman and television presenter Andrea McLean – both of whom played no part in the fraud.

Selva Ramasamy, defending Madden, who has appeared in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, said her long-standing commitment to the performing arts lay behind her involvement.

"She is not somebody primarily motivated by making money, a quick buck or anything of that sort at all."

He said she came from a "close and supportive" family who live in Ireland and her imprisonment in the UK would be particularly "tough".

"We submit her involvement in this entire thing has been motivated by her desire to pursue her calling in the arts. It sadly led to her downfall," he added.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News