A former Zimbabwean footballer is among 12 people who have been sentenced to prison in the UK for plotting to claim more than 450,000 ($586,000) in maternity payments for babies which did not exist.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Liberty Masunda, 43, was sentenced to three years in prison after a jury in Wolverhampton city convicted him of conspiracy to defraud the government.

The 11 other members of the group were given sentences ranging from 14 months to seven years.

"As a result of their actions, there has been a loss to the taxpayer of 450,000 in false payments," prosecutor Gurminder Sanghera said.

"Many of the defendants denied knowing about the fraud, or that their bank accounts were used. Evidence put forward by the CPS showed they each played an integral part of the scheme and ultimately the jury has found them guilty, Mr Sanghera added.

Masunda had played for Zimbabwe and South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs as a striker.

The 12, including members of the same family and their partners and friends, made at least 158 fraudulent applications for maternity allowance over a 52-month period, the CPS said in a statement.

False maternity allowance claims, usually in the names of third parties, were submitted to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the CPS said.

The claim form required a maternity certificate to be completed and submitted. The defendants produced forged certificates by falsifying GP stamps on them, the CPS added.