French Scientology Case Barred

The Associated Press/July 31, 2002
By Pierre-Antoine Souchard

Paris -- A Paris judge has ruled that a 13-year-old case against the Church of Scientology alleging fraud and illegal practice of medicine cannot go to trial because the statute of limitations has expired, a judicial official said Tuesday.

Judge Colette Bismuth-Sauron ruled Friday that there was a lack of progress in the investigation and rejected the case on procedural grounds, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The criminal probe into 16 leaders of the church was opened in 1989 after a criminal complaint was filed by a former Scientologist, Juan Esteban Cordero. He accused the group of "progressive mental conditioning'' that led him to spend more than $167,000 on Scientology-related courses.

However, in 1998, hundreds of documents that were to be used as evidence in the case disappeared from the Justice Ministry.

The judge handling the case at that time, Marie-Paule Moracchini, was taken off the case. An investigation into her role failed to shed any light on what happened to the files.

The charges carry a three-year statute of limitations. Bismuth-Sauron ruled that prosecutors and Judge Moracchini didn't advance the investigation enough from 1993 to 1996 to keep the case alive.

Government prosecutors had argued in favor of the case going to trial.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Olivier Morice, said he would appeal.

A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, Agnes Bron, said the church was "overjoyed.'' The church ``believes it is now time to end this witch hunt,'' she said.

France has long had a contentious relationship with the Church of Scientology, which is seeking recognition as a legitimate religion in Europe. In France, it figures on a list of nearly 200 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activities.

The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard. It teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems. It claims to have 40,000 members in France.

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