MARSEILLE, France, Sept 21, 1999 (Reuters) - A French court on Tuesday rejected attempts to postpone the fraud trial of seven Church of Scientology officials after legal evidence in the case disappeared.
Presiding judge Marie-Annick Varlamoff rebuffed technical objections raised by lawyers of the defendants on Monday and ordered the hearing to proceed.
The two men and five women are accused of wrongdoing in connection with courses of spiritual purification organized for church members. They face up to five years in prison on charges of fraud, violence and illegally practicing medicine.
The Scientology church denies the charges.
Defense lawyers had tried to have the hearing postponed, arguing that crucial legal evidence had vanished and that the controversy over the disappearance made a fair trial impossible.
It was the third time in a year that documents had disappeared in cases involving Scientology members.
Opponents of the Scientology church have said they suspected the group of tampering with the files.
Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou has said the documents missing in Marseille were thrown out by mistake by court clerks who believed they were related to a probe that had been closed.
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