England captain challenged by Revenue and Customs over suspect film scheme.

Wayne Rooney is facing a £3.5 million charge after tax authorities challenged a suspected avoidance scheme in which he was the largest investor.

The football star, who will captain England in today’s World Cup qualifier against Malta, has been told that Revenue and Customs believes he is liable for the sum, The Times can reveal.

HMRC’s assessment coincides with a dip in form by the 30-year-old player, who has scored one goal in eight games for club and country this season. It is the fifth occasion in four years that the tax authorities have challenged investments made by Rooney.

The player’s supporters insist that financial matters are irrelevant to his performance. This week he urged the England squad “to stick together” after Sam Allardyce lost his job as the manager following a newspaper investigation into football corruption.

The footballer used Invicta 43, a film investment partnership that generated tax relief for its wealthy clients, to shelter £12.5 million. The scheme would have enabled him to avoid tax legally on his then £4 million annual salary at Manchester United for three years.

Under the deal, 225 wealthy investors collectively bought the rights to two Hollywood films, Fred Claus and 10,000 BC. Partners were able to claim tax relief on the initial cost of purchasing the films, although they were expected to pay the tax in later years as income from leasing the movies back to the studios was generated.

An Invicta partner putting in £200,000 could borrow a further £800,000 to make his or her total investment £1 million. The investor would then claim tax relief on this amount — worth £400,000 in 2007, the year the scheme was launched. The partner could use the tax relief to shelter other income over three years.

After contacting investors to inform them of its objections to Invicta, HMRC has issued some of them with so-called partner payment notices (PPNs), asking them to pay the disputed tax upfront. A Revenue spokesman confirmed that PPNs were sent out only “where we consider the arrangements used to be avoidance”. Rooney is one of a minority of investors who is understood not yet to have received a formal tax demand.

“People are very worried,” one investor said. “Some will be financially embarrassed. They will not be in a position to shelter the problem. It’s not just a case of losing the relief you claimed. It’s having to pay tax on the income later.” Another said: “It’s a politically motivated move. It’s retrospective and wrong.”

Investors have initially been asked to pay 1.5 times their cash contribution. However, in a “disaster” scenario outlined to partners, HMRC could demand more than four times the cash paid in. In these circumstances, a partner investing £200,000 would have to pay back £900,000, a situation that could push several investors into bankruptcy.

Rooney put in about £2.5 million cash and borrowed about £10 million from Bank of Scotland, it is understood. The bank, then an HBOS subsidiary, was working with Invicta on the scheme. One source said that the player also borrowed his cash contribution — this time from Investec, another bank. It is understood that the loan has been paid back. Rooney’s spokesman would not comment on this or other claims. He said: “Wayne’s tax affairs have always been conducted in full compliance with the law.”

Fellow investors in Invicta include the former Manchester United defender Wes Brown, and the Senegalese former player Abdoulaye Faye, who was at Newcastle United and Stoke City. Non-footballing Invicta 43 partners include Steve Esom, chairman of the British Retail Consortium; Anthony Fry, a former member of the BBC Trust; and Albert Hitchcock, chief technology and operations officer at Pearson.

There is no suggestion that any named investor has behaved illegally or will not be able to pay. Many say that the scheme was sold as a “deferral” — rather than an avoidance — product.

HMRC has argued that Invicta structured the scheme in breach of guidance and has questioned why investors were able to delay repaying most of the tax until 2023. Under the PPN rules, recipients have 90 days to hand over the disputed tax and will recover it only if the scheme is upheld in court.

Investors have employed Fieldfisher, a law firm, to dispute the PPNs. HMRC will decide whether to reissue the demands in February. If investors fail to settle the case before, investors will then be given 30 days to pay.

Rooney was put in the scheme by Financial Management Group (FMG), a now defunct wealth management group at one time chaired by the former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish. Invicta is thought to have paid a commission, possibly 2 per cent of Rooney’s £12.5 million total investment, to FMG.

FMG is thought to have worked with Paul Stretford, Rooney’s agent. A spokesman for Mr Stretford and Triple S Sports and Entertainment said: “Neither Paul Stretford nor Triple S Sports and Entertainment Ltd, the company of which Paul is an employee, received any commission as a result of this investment.”

Since 2014, Rooney has received payment demands or challenges over two investments he made into film schemes run by Ingenious Media, and two in investments involving data centres, called Waverton and Cobalt.

Gareth Southgate, the stand-in England manager, is also a member of Ingenious’ Inside Track film schemes and is understood to have been issued with an upfront tax demand.

A tribunal recently ruled that the Ingenious investors were entitled only to limited tax relief. Waverton Property LLP and Cobalt have disputed HMRC’s decision to deny them full tax relief. Invicta declined to comment. The company is understood to deny that its 43 scheme constituted avoidance.