French court to rule in Scientology case

2012-02-02 11:01

Paris - A Paris court is to rule on Thursday in an appeal against a fine of hundreds of thousands of euros imposed on the Church of Scientology after it was found guilty of fleecing vulnerable followers.

A 2009 fraud conviction saw Scientology's Celebrity Centre and its bookshop in Paris, the two branches of its French operations, ordered to pay €600 000 in fines for preying financially on several followers in the 1990s.

The original ruling, while stopping short of banning the group from operating in France, dealt a blow to the movement best known for its Hollywood followers such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Alain Rosenberg, the French leader of the movement, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined €30 000 on the same charge of fraud.

Five more Scientologists were given fines ranging from €1 000 to €20 000 for fraud or the illegal practice of pharmacy after plaintiffs said they were given vitamins and concoctions to improve their mental state.

On appeal, the prosecutor has sought a fine of not less than €1.5mfor the Celebrity Centre and the SEL bookshop, more than double the original penalty, and suspended prison sentences for most of the accused.

Evasive strategy

France regards Scientology as a cult, not a religion, and has prosecuted individual Scientologists before, but the original trial marked the first time the organisation as a whole had been convicted.

Church of Scientology lawyers in November raised five constitutional questions in a bid to get the trial annulled, but they were rejected, prompting the defendants and their lawyers to walk out.

The Celebrity Centre said in a statement on Tuesday that it had boycotted the trial because of "numerous violations of defence rights" and "doubts about the independence of the justice system felt throughout the trial, after the heavy interference of the executive in the judiciary".

Prosecutor Hughes Woirhaye said the Scientologists were adopting an "evasive strategy" and making "a deliberate choice of systematic denial".

Court hearings were curtailed because of the absence of the accused, while the four former followers who brought the case also withdrew from the trial.

Financial manipulation

The sole remaining witness was Catherine Picard, who heads Unadfi, an organisation that campaigns against sects and is a plaintiff in the case.

Picard testified to the "heavy debts, broken family ties" and the "state of subjection" that could result from the "sect-like methods" used by Scientology to "indoctrinate vulnerable people".

The original case followed a complaint by two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into handing over €20 000 euros in 1998 for Scientology products including an "electrometer" to measure mental energy.

A second claimed she was forced by her Scientologist employer to undergo testing and enrol in courses, also in 1998. When she refused she was fired.

Founded in 1954 by US science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology is recognised as a religion in the United States. It claims a worldwide membership of 12 million and 45 000 followers in France.

  • Celtis - 2012-02-02 11:38

    No comment

  • rudilemmer - 2012-02-02 11:52

    One of the biggest scams in the world......

  • Jimmy - 2012-02-02 12:00

    What a bunch of tossers! Scientology... a "religion" founded by a science fiction writer! Hahahahaha you guys are such a bunch of vulnerable fools. Actually I pity you.. I can't believe that there are people that really believe this utter BS??

      Klipkop - 2012-02-02 12:15

      L. Ron Hubbard the sci-fi writer based his religion on Alistair Crowley's (the great beast) OTO religion/teachings. Basically means they are from the dark side of the force.

      Lanfear - 2012-02-02 12:54

      Yah yah Jimmy, we can say that about all religions. So why don't we? Judaism, Christianity and Islam = bronze age myths founded by a goat herder [Abraham]; and so forth. @ Klipkop - ag old Crowley pretended to darkness but all he really wanted was fame and sex. What I actually can't believe is that someone can hand over €20 000 euros for an "electrometer" to measure mental energy! The bloody woman should be removed from society herself, the idiot. And now she complains?! Ok, so next time Christians claim that if I pray to god my life will become better, and I do so and it doesn't, will I then sue the churches of the world? Hmm, reminds me of the movie "The Man who Sued God" with Billy Connely, excellent film.

      Jimmy - 2012-02-02 13:35

      @ Lanfear: Let me guess, you are an atheist? Yawn... there are so many of you guys going around lately it is really becoming a cliché. Everything came from nothing randomly and for no reason and became matter and mind (let's leave soul out of this one... just to ensure that we don't confuse you any further). Just look at yourself (your brain, the inner workings of your eyes, ears, lungs etc and then try to convince yourself that it was all due to a number of acts of randomness. Honoustly, do you REALLY believe that or is it just more convenient to believe that? Anyway, Godspeed!

  • Anthony - 2012-02-02 12:24

    Double the fine !! And next time, close them down !!!

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