Scientology's secret riches revealed

Herald Sun, Australia/February 23, 2015

By John Dagge

The Church of Scientology netted close to $30 million from religious audits, book sales and donations in the two years following the launch of a major new base in Melbourne.

The opening of the multi-million dollar facility in Ascot Vale at the start of 2011 also lead to a 35 per cent surge in people completing Scientology courses but interest has since tempered, financial records show.

The rare insight into the finances­ of the highly secretive organisation came as it filed annual reports with the Australian Securities and Invest­ments­ Commission.

The Church of Scientology Australia changed its corporate structure in 2011, prompting the need for it to file accounts.

Despite the lucrative revenue stream — which included $4.3 million in donations and $2.9 million in interest paid on $28 million in cash investments — the local branch of the controversial religion is losing money across its Australian operations.

Losses at the church grew from $136,375 in 2011 to $169,156 by December 2012.

But the accounts contain a number of discrepancies with the 2011 accounts stating the church made a $91,000 profit.

The 2012 accounts — filed in June last year and covering both years — do not provide an explanation for the change.

The church’s long-standing treasurer was removed as a listed director in April, two months before the latest accounts­ were lodged.

Church of Scientology Australia spokeswoman Virginia Stewart said the church was “doing very well” and said the accounts had been amended to more accurately reflect its financial­ position following an audit of all local churches.

The detailed audit was ­carried out as the church changed from an incorporated association to a company limited by guarantee.

“Operating losses can happen, especially during periods when the church is expanding its outreach activities, increasing its service facilities and community programs,” Ms Stewart said. “We have planning in progress for other locations of our churches in Australia and Asia.”

Ms Stewart said the church’s treasurer of twelve years had left to carry out missionary work.

Based on the 2012 accounts, income weighed in at $33.1 million over the two years — highlighting the fundraising ability of an organisation which only counted 2163 members at the time of the 2011 census.

The church has disputed the census numbers, saying they are not an accurate reflection of its footprint in Australia.

The local branch of the ­California-headquartered ­religion netted $10.5 million from “spiritual counselling and religious training” in 2011 and $8.7 million in 2012.

It picked up another $3.4 million over the two years via the sale of religious books by its founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Major expenses over the ­period include $8.2 million on “volunteer allowances” and “volunteer welfare expenses” — running at more than $11,200 per day — but the ­accounts do not provide individual remuneration details of its most highly paid members.

It spent $2 million on church services, $1.4 million on missionary activity and $761,000 in licensing fees and gave $1.1 million to “affiliated organisations”.

The notoriously litigious ­organisation also spent $1.4 million on legal fees.

Real estate spree

The Church of Scientology has spent more than $70 million expanding and upgrading its property holdings over the past decade as it works to kick start a “golden age” for the movement Down Under.

The local arm of the controversial US-based religion has also proved itself an astute property investor, cashing in on surging local prices.

The real estate spending spree kicked off with the $7 million purchase of the former Sisters of Mercy College premises in Ascot Vale in late 2005.

It spent another $14 million converting the 6400sq m building into the first “Ideal Organization” church in Australia, opening the premises at the start of 2011.

The organisation sold its original Melbourne premises on Russell St to property developers in 2009 for $7.4 million after paying $720,000 for the historic four-storey building in 1980.

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