French Scientologists lose appeal of fraud conviction
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France's highest appeals court on Wednesday upheld a 2009 fraud conviction against the Church of Scientology's Celebrity Centre and its bookstore in Paris.
France's highest appeals court on Wednesday upheld a fraud conviction against the Church of Scientology, which was appealing a 2009 ruling against five church members as well as its Celebrity Centre and a Scientology bookstore in Paris.
The French branch of the Church of Scientology was found guilty of organised fraud in 2009, a ruling that was upheld in a February 2012 appeal.
Five plaintiffs in the case accused the church of persuading them to spend tens of thousands of euros on personality tests as well as bogus vitamin cures, sauna sessions and “purification packs”.
The court levied fines totalling €600,000 on the Celebrity Centre and the Scientology bookstore in Paris. Four French Scientology officials received suspended prison sentences while the church's leader in France, Alain Rosenberg, received a €30,000 fine as well as a two-year suspended sentence.
The appeal claimed that the religious liberties of the defendants were being infringed, but the prosecution argued that the case did not hinge on questions of religion and was a simple case of fraud.
The church had indicated that if its appeal was rejected it would seek recourse at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
A 'cult' in France
Although it is considered a religion in the United States, Sweden and Spain, a 1995 French parliamentary report called it a “dangerous cult”.
French courts convicted Scientology members of fraud in 1997 and 1999, while the church was fined for violating privacy laws in 2002.
Founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based church bases its beliefs on a close study of his book “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”. The organisation claims a global reach with 10 million members in 165 nations – including 45,000 in France – and high-profile celebrity devotees like John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
The church has fought numerous lawsuits around the world since its establishment in 1954, both to fend off accusations of fraud or manipulation and to seek legal recognition as a religion.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)