Actor Wesley Snipes has been found guilty of failing to file tax returns by a US jury, but cleared of more serious charges.

The Blade star appeared in court in Ocala, Florida, accused of failing to pay tax on $58m (£29.1m) of income from 1999 to 2004, as he and his two co-defendants denied eight charges in one of the most public tax cases in decades.

He is believed to have assumed the views of his co-defendants, Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas P Rosile, who have protested against the legitimacy of the US government's demand of income tax payments from American citizens.

Snipes, 45, had been charged with six counts of failing to file tax returns, two of fraudulently claiming tax refunds and one count of conspiracy to defraud the government.

The jury found him not guilty of two serious felony charges of fraud and conspiracy, and three misdemeanour charges of failing to file tax returns or to pay taxes from 2002 to 2004, but guilty of failing to file returns or pay taxes from 1999 through 2001.

He faces up to three years in prison and must pay $17 million (£8.6 million) in back taxes plus penalties and interest.

The jury heard Snipes had stopped paying federal income tax in 2000 and had sent the government letters expressing his views on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) practices and demanding millions of dollars worth of refunds.

In one 600-page document, he called himself a "non-taxpayer" and questioned why the IRS refused to help him and others "in not complying with laws they clearly are not subject to".

Prosecuting in Ocala, M Scotland Morris argued: "Nobody likes paying taxes, but paying taxes is the price we pay to live in a civilised society.

"And it's the law, and that's what this case is about. It's about three men who felt they were above the law."

In his first public comments since the trial commenced, Snipes told reporters this week: "I've always been paying my taxes.

"I've always been trying to comply," he added. "The question is if they tell you what you're supposed to do. We need to go to our government and get clear answers."

While Snipes' defence lawyers admitted his views were "crazy" and "kooky", they disagreed that he had necessarily broken the law.

"Disagreement with the IRS is not fraud of the IRS, is not deception," said his defence attorney Robert Barnes.

"It was an attempt to engage the IRS, to go through the IRS procedures and processes and see who's right."

Snipes faced a possible 16-year jail sentence if convicted of the serious felony charges, though punishments of that length are atypical in cases such as his.

02/02/2008 12:52:13