April 30, 2013 2:13 pm

Five charged over £125m UK film tax-relief scheme

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Five men will be charged over a £125m tax-relief scheme marketed to investors in the British film industry after a criminal investigation by HM Revenue & Customs.

Keith Hayley, Robert Bevan, Charles Savill, Cyril Megret and Norman Leighton will each face charges of conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to cheat the public revenue and conspiracy to falsify documents, the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It is alleged that, between 1 January 2002 and 11 July 2011, a tax relief that allows investors in the British film industry to offset losses against other tax liabilities was abused and dishonestly marketed in order to cheat the public revenue,” said Andrew Penhale, deputy head of fraud at the CPS. “The evidence suggests that the value of allowable losses was falsified, that there was a conspiracy to defraud investors and that documents were falsified for accounting purposes.”

Mr Bevan and Mr Megret are both directors of Buena Onda and Salt, London-based film production and financing companies, according to their websites. The companies, which are based at the same London address, did not return a request seeking comment.

Mr Hayley and Mr Savill are both listed as producers of British films that were financed by Salt, including Pure, starring Keira Knightley, according to film databases. Contact details for the pair, and for Mr Leighton, could not be immediately located.

The defendants will appear at a magistrates' court in June. They have not yet had an opportunity to respond formally to the charges.

The CPS, which prosecutes tax cases investigated by the Revenue, has pledged to pursue more cases against tax advisers, with a target of increasing fivefold the number of tax files it handles, to 1,500 a year by 2014-15.

Tax consultants who push dishonest avoidance schemes – and the professionals who invest in them – are central targets in the strategy.

The film industry in particular has been a focus of recent investigations. Five investors who suffered heavy losses from a separate film tax avoidance scheme won a claim for £2.6m against their advisers this month.

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