Madrid, Spain -- A Spanish court on Monday acquitted 15 members and employees of the Church of Scientology on charges of criminal conspiracy, closing a case dating back to 1984.
Prosecutors had originally brought additional charges including tax fraud and endangering public health, but after the trial began in February the Madrid Provincial Court threw out all but the conspiracy charge.
On Monday the court rejected this charge as well. It said there was no evidence to support prosecutors' allegations that drug rehabilitation and other programs sponsored by the church in Spain amounted to illicit gatherings aimed at activities such as bilking people of money.
"This is a complete victory for the Church of Scientology and Scientologists in Spain, and a vindication of our religious ministry and social betterment programs,'' said Luis Gonzalez, spokesman for the Church of Scientology. "After exhaustive scrutiny, the court has declared the prosecutor's case to be entirely groundless.''
Initially, the church's American leader, Rev. Heber Jentzsch, was among those indicted but he did not show up for the trial. Church leaders argued he had been charged simply for being the head of the church.
The Church of Scientology has 10,000 members in Spain. It is officially classified as a lay association with religious goals, not as a church. It does not have tax-exempt status as it does in the United States.
The church was founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who taught that technology can expand the mind and solve problems. These days it claims nearly nine million members worldwide, including the actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise.