Scientology Leader Jailed For Fraud

Source: Guardian
Date: November 16, 1999

Group denounces French trial as inquisition

In another blow to the controversial Church of Scientology's battle to be recognised as a religion rather than a sect, a French court yesterday found one of its former leaders guilty of fraud and sentenced him to six months in prison.

Xavier Delamare, a former regional Scientology leader in south-east France, was given a further 18-month suspended sentence by the Marseille court while four other members accused of fraud, violence and illegally practising medicine were given suspended sentences of six months to a year.

The verdict marked the end of a decade-long investigation into the group's activities in Marseille and Nice. Church officials were accused by former members of selling bogus "purification" treatments costing between pounds 1,200 and pounds 15,000 but consisting mainly of sessions in the sauna, jogging and vitamin pills.

Controversy surrounding the case continued in September when it emerged that 3.5 tonnes of evidence - including documents relating to the hearings of Delamare and his former colleagues - were inadvertently destroyed by a court clerk.

It was the second time in a year that evidence in a Scientology case had gone missing in France, and several lawyers and members of parliament suggested the organisation may have had a hand in its destruction.

Unlike the United States, France refuses to recognise Scientology as a religion. Founded in 1954 by the late American science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based organisation claims more than 8m members worldwide, including 40,000 in France.

One of its main teachings is that the human race's problems are due to disembodied souls brought to the planet millions of years ago. Well known members include Hol lywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Scientology was described as a sect in a 1996 French parliamentary report and appears on a list of 173 groups under constant government surveillance to check the activities of cults and sects in France. The Scientologists already have appealed to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe for help in their goal of dissolving the French government's anti-sect unit.

The church denounced the trial as an `inquisition' and has asked the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva to look into France's efforts `to prejudice the rights of minority religious members to a fair trial in France'.

The organisation has complained of discrimination against Scientologists in France, where they said members have been refused the right to open bank accounts and teachers have been sacked on the basis of their affiliation with Scientology.

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