PARIS, Jan 5, 2000 (Reuters) - A French court on Wednesday ordered the state to pay 20,000 francs ($3,070) in damages to two plaintiffs over the mysterious disappearance of legal evidence in a probe into the Church of Scientology.
The court said Paris investigating magistrate Marie-Paule Moracchini was at fault for failing to make copies of the 44 documents whose disappearance in 1998 has never been explained.
The plaintiffs, both former Scientology members, had launched legal action against other former members of the Church, accusing them of fraud and illegally practising medicine.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said foul play was involved in the disappearance of the files.
The Church of Scientology has denied responsibility and says the case is covered by the statute of limitations that says a probe must be closed if it has been dormant for more than three years.
Legal evidence vanished in another case against the Church of Scientology in Marseille last year.
Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou has said it was destroyed by mistake by court clerks who thought the documents were related to an investigation that had been closed, and that foul play was not involved.
Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, claims more than eight million adherents worldwide. Unlike the United States, France does not recognise it as a religion.