Spain cracks down on Scientologists

Independent (London)/November 22, 1988
By Tim McGirk in Madrid

The worldwide sect of Scientology suffered a crushing blow to its credibility yesterday, after Spanish police raided an international meeting of the church's hierachy and arrested 69 members on suspicion of fraud, embezzlement and coercion.

The Spanish judge who had ordered the police swoop later released 29 people, most of them Portuguese. Among those arrested and detained was Herbert Hertzch, 53, an American referred to as "the commodore", who is thought to have taken charge of the lucrative pseudo-scientific cult after the death of its founder, L. Ron hubbard, who claimed he was from Venus. The judge, Jose Maria Vazquez, said: "The first of the sect's financial commandments is to earn money. The last is to earn more and more money."

After tapping telephones of the organization's offices in Spain, police claim to have amassed enough evidence to arrest Scientology leaders during their meeting at a luxury Madrid hotel. They are charged with coercion, fraud, forging public documents and embezzlement. The sect's Spanish lawyer denies the charges.

The judge said disciples were virtual captives and those who tried to leave the sect were punished. "They were arrested or kidnapped," said Judge Vazquez, adding "There's plenty more to investigate here." The Church of Scientology has also run foul of the law in the United States, France and Great Britain, where in 1984, a judge ruled it "corrupt, sinister and dangerous." Spanish authorities began to investigate the sect after two members filed against the church in 1984.

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