Scientologists in France go on trial for fraud
PARIS (Reuters) – The Church of Scientology in France went on trial on Monday on charges of organised fraud.
Registered as a religion in the United States, with celebrity members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology enjoys no such legal protection in France and has faced repeated accusations of being a money-making cult.
The group’s Paris headquarters and bookshop are defendants in the case. If found guilty, they could be fined 5 million euros ($7 million) and ordered to halt their activities in France.
Seven leading French Scientology members are also in the dock. Some are charged with illegally practising as pharmacists and face up to 10 years in prison and hefty fines.
The case centres on a complaint made in 1998 by a woman who said she was enrolled into Scientology after members approached her in the street and persuaded her to do a personality test.
In the following months, she paid more than 21,000 euros for books, “purification packs” of vitamins, sauna sessions and an “e-meter” to measure her spiritual progress, she said.
Other complaints then surfaced. The five original plaintiffs — three of whom withdrew after reaching a financial settlement with the Church of Scientology — said they spent up to hundreds of thousands of euros on similar tests and cures.
They told investigators that Scientology members harassed them with phone calls and nightly visits to cajole them into paying their bills or taking out bank loans. The plaintiffs were described as “vulnerable” by psychological experts in the case.