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French court convicts Church of Scientology of fraud
The Church of Scientology in France has been found guilty of defrauding its followers and its leaders have been handed fines and suspended prison sentences. However, the court did not ban the organisation’s activities in France.
A Paris court on Tuesday convicted the two principal institutions of the Church of Scientology in France of “organised fraud”, but stopped short of banning the group’s activities in France.
The court also levied fines totalling 600,000 euros and handed suspended prison sentences to four French Scientology officials. Scientology’s leader in France, Alain Rosenberg, received a two-year suspended sentence and a fine of 30,000 euros.
It did not, however, ban the organisation’s activities.
The two key Scientology institutions – known in France as The Celebrity Centre and the Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology - were ordered to pay the fines for financially preying on Scientology’s vulnerable followers in the 1990s.
Reacting to the news shortly after the verdicts were announced, George Fenech, president of Milivudes, a French anti-cult group, told FRANCE 24 that the fines and prison sentences were appropriate, and that he hoped Scientology’s activities would eventually be stopped in France.
Fenech predicted that “in the future, if Scientology commits more illegal activities, it could be dissolved by a court.”
The case was launched by two plaintiffs, who claimed that they were defrauded of over 20,000 euros and 49,500 euros each for costly materials they claim they were coerced into buying.
An intricacy of French law prohibiting courts from dissolving organisations convicted of fraud meant that Scientology could not be totally banned in France, though the law has since changed.
Scientology is officially considered a “sect” in France, but claims it is a legitimate religion and denies any charges of embezzlement. A lawyer for the Church of Scientology has said it plans to appeal the verdict.
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. It is officially recognised as a religion in the United States, and counts among its members a number of popular culture celebrities, such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa Marie Presley.