Five men, who were part of a seven-strong gang that tried to steal more than £1 million in tax by setting up sham companies they claimed traded in television broadcasting rights for cage fighting events, have been jailed for a total of almost 19 years.

An investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) found that the nationwide gang, led by Christopher Peters from Swansea and John Faraday from Buckinghamshire, had hijacked five identities and set up eight fake companies. The gang produced bogus invoices and contracts between the companies, buying and selling television broadcast rights, in order to generate fraudulent VAT repayments.

Between October 2010 and September 2012 the group piggy-backed genuine cage fighting events, producing promotional material and using the names of well-known fighters, to enhance their business credibility. The investigation unravelled the scam and identified the criminals behind it.

Anthony Swarbrick, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:

“This was a fraud driven purely by greed with the single aim of stuffing their pockets with cash that should have been spent on vital public services. No cage fights or broadcasts ever took place and no payments were ever made between the companies. It was a complete sham with the sole purpose of stealing from the taxpayer.

“This gang went to great lengths to deceive tax inspectors and cover up their crime, but ultimately their fraud was unpicked and they are paying the price. We will now look to strip them of their criminal gains, and the message is clear – tax fraud doesn’t pay.”

Christopher Peters and John Faraday, and Aled Wilson, from Berkshire, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing while Peter Tomlinson from Derbyshire changed his plea to guilty part way through the trial. Michael Hizer from Manchester, Jeffrey Zemmel and Anthony Behar, both from Hertfordshire, were all found guilty after a five-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court. Peters, Hizer, Tomlinson, Zemmel and Behar were sentenced this week. Faraday and Wilson are due to be sentenced later this month.

Confiscation proceedings will follow to recoup the proceeds of their criminal activity.