Madrid, Spain -- A Spanish court on Thursday acquitted the American leader of the Church of Scientology of conspiracy and other charges, ending a case dating back to 1988.
In December the Madrid Provincial Court had acquitted 15 members and employees of the Spanish branch of Scientology who had been charged along with church leader Rev. Heber Jentzsch.
When Jentzsch did not appear for trial as it began in February, the court decided to try him separately. The 67-year-old lives in Los Angeles.
On March 22, the prosecutor sent the court notice that, in light of the 15 acquittals, the original indictment "now lacks content.'' But the prosecutor recommended the court only shelve the case, allowing the possibility it could be reopened at some point in the future.
However, on Thursday the court announced that, with the indictment dropped the best way to end the case was to acquit Jentzsch.
The court said in December there was no evidence to support prosecutors' allegations that drug rehabilitation and other programs sponsored by the Church of Scientology in Spain amounted to illicit gatherings aimed at activities such as bilking people of money.
Spanish authorities began investigating the Church of Scientology in 1984, and in 1988 Jentzsch was arrested when he arrived in Madrid for a Scientology conference. He was held for 4 months before being released, but indicted in 1994.
Church leaders argued he had been charged simply for being the head of the church.
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.