France labels Scientology a fraud

Nine News, Australia/February 4, 2012

A French court has slapped a fraud sentence on the Church of Scientology, saying it targets vulnerable people for commercial gain.

The ruling is a major setback for Scientologists in France, and it marks the first time here that the Church of Scientology has been convicted of organised fraud.

The development puts its famous recruitment methods under a spotlight.

Scientologists vehemently reject the conviction, saying that they are the victims of anti-cult organisations trying to destroy them

"Respect my religion," chanted several dozen Scientologists, braving sub-zero temperatures in the front of a courthouse in Paris.

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"We did not have a fair trial," said Marie a 55-year-old computer scientist, who refused to give her surname, "France doesn't tolerant religions, it is attacking our movement."

On Thursday, an appeals court in Paris upheld a conviction against the Scientology organisation for organised fraud, assessing a $US530,000 ($A496,463.87) fine to the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Paris and a $265,000 fine to its bookstore.

Several leading French Scientologists, including the group's head in Paris, Alain Rosenberg, were given suspended sentences of up to two years in prison.

France regards Scientology, which was founded in 1954 by the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, as a sect not a religion.

Scientology teaches that followers can expand their mind and reach a state known as "clear" by using Hubbard's technology, which involves the use of an E-meter.

But the Paris appeals court did not believe that Scientology was able to expand the mind. It ruled instead that the organisation "engaged in dishonest manoeuvres in order to sell services and books, and draw payments."

The court found that Scientology offers "free personality tests which delivered negative results to disturb people and convince them of the need to seek cures."

Recruits are then given "new tests, which again delivered negative results," in order to get recruits to buy more courses, stated the ruling.

The Church of Scientology has branded these accusations as "absolutely ridiculous."

Spokesperson Eric Roux asked "if you want to destroy a religion, what do you do? You attack its finances. Scientology courses are not more expensive that other courses, and Scientologists are not stupid."

In October 2009, the organisation narrowly escaped a ban in France when a French court first ruled it was guilty of organised fraud.

Thursday's decision is a "relief," said plaintiff UNADFI, a group representing cult victims in France.

"This ruling marks the end of a long journey for us," says UNADFI head Catherine Picard.

"The victims will get reparations, and the ruling shows Scientology under a new light, exposing its systematic use of illegal practices."

The case came after the complaints of two women, one of whom says she was manipulated into spending large sums of money on life-improvement courses, vitamins and other products.

Aude-Claire Malton, 32, said she "had been preyed upon when she was psychologically fragile" and spent all her savings, some $28,000 in Scientology courses in 1998.

Scientologist Eric Roux accuses anti-cult groups such as UNADFI of using victims to destroy their religion.

"Malton was a normal person, she signed up for a four-year-course, she was satisfied with it." Roux says Malton's family convinced her to lodge a complaint.

Malton later dropped her complaint after receiving an undisclosed amount of money from the Church of Scientology.

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