Church of Scientology Faces Fraud Trial in France

Date: September 9, 2008

A French judge has ordered two branches of the Church of Scientology and seven of its leaders to stand trial for fraud, in the latest of a series of French legal battles against the organisation promoted by celebrities such as Tom Cruise.

Scientology, which offers self-improvement based on the writings of the science-fiction author L Ron Hubbard, is seen as controversial in France's secular republic. Although Scientology is registered as a religion in the US, French authorities treat it as a sect.

The latest case centres on a complaint made in 1998 by a 33-year-old woman who said she was approached by a group of people outside a Paris metro station who offered her a free personality test and a later meeting to interpret the results. Over the following months, she said she paid 140,000 francs (£17,000) to the Scientologists for courses, books, medication, and "purification packs".

Judge Jean-Christophe Hullin ruled that the Scientologists' operational centres in France, its "Celebrity Center" and its bookshop, along with seven church leaders should be tried for "organised fraud" and "illegally practising as pharmacists". He ignored the recommendation of the public prosecutor who had earlier said the case should be shelved.

The Church of Scientology denounced the case as "empty and concocted", and said the woman who filed the complaint had been reimbursed.

In 1995, the first French Church of Scientology association was dissolved for not paying taxes after it was refused special church status. The group claims to have thousands of French members, despite fraud convictions for officials in Lyon in 1997 and Marseille in 1999. In 2003, a Paris court fined the organisation for keeping personal information on its members.

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