French police raid Scientology's Paris offices: report

Yahoo! News, June 1, 2000

Police raided the Paris offices of the Church of Scientology, a French newspaper revealed Thursday, the latest in a series of clashes between the French authorities and the controversial movement.

Scientology spokesmen were playing down the affair Thursday, describing it as a minor matter that had sprung from a simple administrative error.

Officers from the fraud and computer crime squad SEFTI carried out the raid on May 16, seizing computer materials from the movement's offices at rue Jules Cesar, in Paris' 12th arrondissment, said the French daily Liberation.

Police held Marc Walter, president of the Church of Scientology in Ile-de-France -- the Paris region -- for questioning for 24 hours.

Investigating magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke ordered the raid. He took up his duties at the Paris courts in April, investigating financial matters.

The raid sprang from a complaint lodged by a former Scientologist who was still receiving mail shots from the organisation despite having asked to be taken off their mailing list. The complaint was for "invasion of privacy" over computers files kept by the organisation.

Scientology spokesman Jean Dupuis played down the significance of the incident.

"This is a completely banal matter of common law ... a classic procedure used every time a complaint is made to an investigating magistrate," he said.

Police had returned the material they seized -- two computers, two servers and three disquettes -- three days after the raid, he added.

"The matter is settled and it stops there. The police noted that the people who had complained had indeed been struck off the lists. That's the reason they gave us back all our equipment."

The files, which contained the names and addresses of about 20,000 people who had been in touch with Scientology, were updated on a daily basis, said Dupuis.

In the case of the person who had lodged the complaint, the details had been deleted from the computer files -- but not from an earlier, printed file.

"It's an administrative error that could happen to anyone, to any business. In any case, I don't see what interest we would have to send mail to people who don't want to receive it," said Daniele Gounord, another spokeswoman for the movement.

This is only the latest of a series of run-ins Scientology has had with the French authorities over the years.

In November last year, a court in Marseille convicted a group of five Scientologists and former Scientologists on charges of fraud or attempted fraud.

In 1996, a Lyon court handed out suspended sentences to six members on a variety of fraud-related charges.

One of them also received a suspended sentence for involuntary homicide over the 1988 death of Scientologist Patrice Vic, who committed suicide after being pressured to take out a loan for more courses.

Back in 1978, a Paris court sentenced the founder of Scientology, Lafayette Ron Hubbard, to four years and a 35,000-franc fine for fraud.

Hubbard did not turn up for the trial and never served his sentence. Nor did he ever appeal the conviction. He died in the United States in 1986.

Scientology has been listed as a cult in a number of government reports. In February, Scientologists in France and abroad protested after a French government report raised the possibility of banning the movement.

France, along with Germany, has been repeatedly criticised in the United States for labelling the Church of Scientology a cult.

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