French minister raises prospect of Scientology ban

Reuters, September 9, 1999

PARIS, Sept 9, 1999 (Reuters) - French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou on Thursday raised the prospect of banning the Church of Scientology as investigators probed how legal documents that could have been used as evidence against the movement had vanished.

"Sects, and this one in particular, are extremely powerful ...and I think they should be prevented from doing any harm," she told RTL radio.

Asked about a call by Alain Vivien, the head of an interministerial committee investigating sects, to ban the Church of Scientology, she said: "I think that actually one can raise the question."

A lawyer on Thursday charged that legal documents had vanished in a case involving a Scientology member -- the third such case in a year. He said they disappeared as the file was being transferred from a court in Verdun, in eastern France, to Caen in the west.

But Caen Prosecutor Eric Enquebeck said some documents had been withdrawn from the file on a court order because they were obtained in irregular circumstances. Other documents reported missing were in the process of being transferred, he said.

The case involves charges by a young Scientology member that her mother tried to kidnap her to force her to leave the Church.

Guigou promised to release the findings of an investigation opened on Wednesday into the disappearance of legal documents in a fraud case involving Church of Scientology members in the southern city of Marseille.

The Marseille prosecutor has said the documents, which included information on Scientology accounts and followers, were thrown out sometime last year by clerks who believed they were related to a case that had been closed.

Last October, prosecution lawyers blamed foul play when they discovered that important files in a lengthy Scientology fraud case in Paris had vanished.

The Church of Scientology has denied any responsibility. It said its opponents were waging a slander campaign by trying to blame an administrative blunder on the Church.

Unlike the United States, France does not recognise Scientology as a religion. Members of the group complain of harassment and persecution.

Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based in the United States, claims more than eight million adherents worldwide, including 4,000 in France.

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