WASHINGTON - The head of the Church of Scientology strongly protested a Russian police raid on two of the movement's offices in Moscow Thursday and suggested that Germany may have had a hand in the action.
The raids were "unprovoked ... unconstitutional harassment of members of a peaceful religion, for practicing their faith," Reverend Heber Jentzsch said in his letter to Ambassador Yuri Ushakov.
Moscow police Thursday raided the head offices of Russia's Scientologist movement as part of an investigation into the group's financial activities in Russia.
Footage shown by Russian television showed armed police storming into the Scientologists building and checking documents of its US directors.
The police also dispersed a school class attended by several dozen children.
Jentzsch said the presence of armed police was unnecessary as "there was no cause whatsoever to expect harm from Church members," adding that aside from a "fabricated claim from a 'former member,'" the reason for the raid and investigation "remains a mystery."
The Scientologist suggests, however, that Germany may have influenced Russia to take such measures against the church.
"There is strong cause for suspicion that today's raids came about due to German influence," Jentzsch told the Russian ambassador.
The reverend also mentions Russian media report suggesting that the raids may be Russia's response to the US government's decision to "close Russian foundations on American soil which have been aiding Iran."
If the Church of Scientology is "simply caught in the middle of a political tit-for-tat, the situation is even more intolerable," Jentzsch said in his letter.
The Los Angeles-based church leader offered to travel to Washington to "prevent further harassment of a peaceful religion."
Scientology, founded by the science-fiction writer Ron Hubbard and based in Los Angeles, is recognized as a religion in the United States.
It is not subject to restrictions under Russian law but is nonetheless condemned by the Russian Orthodox church.
The Russian government last February gave all foreign religious organizations six months to register in accordance with a 1997 law that banned sects with less than 15 years' existence in Russia from actively seeking converts.
Scientology is considered a sect in some western countries, including Germany and Greece, where authorities contend that its leaders seek economic gain.