French court orders continued Scientology probe

Reuters, Sept 30, 1999

PARIS, Sept 29, 1999 (Reuters) - A French court said on Wednesday a fraud probe into 16 members of the Church of Scientology should continue despite a lengthy delay and the disappearance of important legal files in the case.

The Paris court rejected the church's demand that the probe, which is separate from a Scientology fraud trial held earlier this month, be dropped on a technicality.

The case has caught public attention because legal evidence was also reported missing recently in two other probes into Scientology.

In one case, involving a continuing probe into an abduction complaint, the documents were later found.

In the other, a fraud trial which wound up in the Mediterranean port of Marseilles last week, justice officials admitted court clerks destroyed the documents by mistake. A verdict in this trial is due on November 15.

In the latest fraud case, the church's lawyer had asked the court to drop it under a statute of limitations saying a probe must be closed if it has been dormant for more than three years.

Investigating magistrate Marie-Paule Moracchini has not made any move in the probe for the past six years.

But the court ruled on Wednesday that the provision could not apply because documents had disappeared. They went missing a year ago.

The court also ignored a state prosecutor's request to remove Moracchini from the case for her failure to have saved an extra copy of the missing documents as is usually done.

An administrative investigation is underway to determine how the documents were lost.

Opponents of the church have accused it of tampering with the files. The church has denied any responsibility.

The case dates back to 1989 when the 16 Scientologists were accused of fraud and illegal practice of medicine by former Scientology members who say they were cheated.

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