The Church of Scientology is on trial in Paris for organised fraud. Six individuals and two organisations have been charged and if they are found guilty the Church may well have to wind up some or all of its activities in France.
This trial had been talked about for months here as being a make-or-break affair for Scientology and it began last Monday. The two organisations being tried are the Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology and the Scientology library, SEL. The individuals are all members of the Church of Scientology.
Several people brought the case to court, all of them filing complaints for alleged fraud and or mental and emotional abuse. They allege that the Church put heavy psychological pressure on them to invest thousands of euros in Scientology products and services.
Three Scientology services in particular are being analysed by the court and sworn-in experts. The French online paper Rue 89 gives a short description of them.
The first is called Communication Lessons. New members receive lessons from Church Counsellors.
The price of these sessions varies depending on the member’s ability to pay and which branch of the Church he or she is enrolled in. Prices of over 1000€ have been cited. 1 euro is worth 1.4 US dollars at today’s rates.
Another service involves Purification Rundown sessions. They are one of the biggest-selling products for the Church and are claimed to be a means of ridding one’s body of impurities. Ex-member Roger Gonnet describes a session, saying "Members have to take lots of vitamins in the morning, and follow that up with a half-hour jogging session. Then they go into a sauna for four and a half hours. Members do this for days on end." The cost of this service is around 2000€.
But the service that is being most talked about right now is the Scientology Electrometer, pictured above. An electrometer is an electrical instrument designed to measure electric charge or electric potential differences. There are different types of electrometers on the market, ranging from simple-to-build kit models to sophisticated electronic versions.
The one used by the Church of Scientology is said to be a relatively simple model which is produced in Taiwan. Scientologists claim that it explores and analyses emotions and they consider it as being a religious instrument of scientific value.
The person being analysed is hooked up to the instrument via two electrodes and then undergoes a two hour long interview which is said to begin with phrases such as "Take yourself back to a moment when you were happy (or unhappy)." During the interview the electrometer measures changes in the electrical energy being discharged by the interviewee. This shows up on the instrument, whose needle moves to the left or right with energy fluctuations. The interview is supposed to lead to a "confession" by the person concerning his or her emotional capacities, strengths and shortcomings.
A Scientology Church witness quoted by Le Figaro said "The electrometer helps us to decide in which direction questioning should go. This questioning allows the member to know himself better, to improve and grow stronger."
The person is then audited, starting at level zero and has to reach level OT8. The Church is said to organise the result attribution process in such a manner that some members fail to reach OT8, which means they have to begin, and pay, again
The machine costs 5000€.
Most of the testimony given by experts in the field of electrometers are skeptical of the Church’s claims, one of them saying "It clearly appears that the machine is nothing more than a trap destined to lend a scientific aspect to a process which is not scientific at all."
Some accusations of abuse are from alleged victims who prefer to remain press anonymous, such as Madame A, who has testified that she was swindled out of over 20 000€. Her lawyer Maître Morice says "This woman was made to believe (in 1998) that she was in a very bad state and that the only way out of it would be Scientology. She was told that she should equip herself with an electrometer, follow Communication lessons, and take a Purification Rundown.
Another of the alleged victims is Madame Aude-Claire Malton, who says she lost 21 500€ in two months.
Eric A, for his part, lost 49 483€ in three months. He is appearing as a witness in the trial, having retracted his formal accusations in exchange for a financial settlement from the Church.
According to Liberation he described himself as being "lonely and depressed" when he joined, and that he hoped to find friends within the Church. He was recruited by Didier Michaux, a Scientology librarian. Eric A has testified to being telephoned several times a day by Michaux, who would read him passages from texts by Ron Hubbard, the Church’s founder, for hours. Eric A also contends that Michaux accompanied him literally to the door of a credit company in order that he obtain a loan to pay the Church’s bills.
Michaux puts all this down to what he calls their "Convivial relationship." Of Eric A’s Purification rundown, he says "All I can remember is that Eric A was a figure skater, and that he was very happy with the Purification Rundown because that gave him better sensations when on the ice."
Didier Michaux says he was paid 4500€ a month in commission on sales of the Church’s books. "But" he says "I did it out of religious conviction, not because of financial motivation."
Another Church of Scientology recruiter, Jean-François Valli, was also questioned about his commission on sales of the church’s products and services. He tried to justify his payment by supplying documents to the court, one of which was an internal financial document dating from 1998 and containing figures relating to cash payments which were expressed in euros. That which surprised the court, and subsequently led to Valli being reminded that the euro didn’t come into existence as a hard currency until 2002.
The trial is still in the initial testimony phase, with many more witnesses still to be heard.
There has been another recent Scientology-related development here in France. Miviludes is the French government agency whose job it is to track and counter those religious and other groups it considers as being sects.
I recently wrote an article describing their work and the accusations contained in their latest report which contend that the Church of Scientology is actively trying to block their efforts to bring attention to alleged sect and Scientology influence within the United Nations.
I received information after that article drawing my attention to a letter-petition that was sent by six United States Congress members on US Congress letter-headed paper to Pierre Vimont, France’s Ambassador to the United States.
The letter is highly critical of the report highlighted in my article and was signed by Trent Franks (Rep-Ariz.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Dianne Watson (Dem-Calif.), Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.).
They contend that the report "..raises serious concerns regarding protection for an individual's right to freedom of religion in France."
Miviludes has expressed their ironic surprise that US Congress Members would suddenly be so interested in France, and it would appear that the letter is a subtle reference to Mivilude’s allegations of Scientology’s influence in the United Nations via front organisations.