Jacques Brinon/AP
Former French Scientology Church branch member Roger Gonnet

French Court Charges Church of Scientology with Fraud

May 27, 2009 07:01 PM
by Rachel Balik
In Paris, a trial accusing the Church of Scientology of fraud began on Monday; a guilty verdict could permanently shut down the church in France.

Scientology Trial Begins in France

Although the Paris prosecutor’s office advised the plaintiff to drop the charges, a French court agreed to hear the case of a woman who asserts that the Church of Scientology conned her out of the equivalent of approximately $30,000. The trial has been pending since September 2008. The Associated Press reports that the organization does not have status as a religion in France; government authorities consider the group a sect. If the plaintiff, Aude-Claire Malton, wins her case, the Church will banned from France altogether.

Malton initially filed the claim in 1998, after she says she was persuaded to spend thousands of dollars on items like “‘purification packs’ and vitamins.” She was “psychologically fragile” at the time, the Guardian reports, and the magistrate arguing her case will try to persuade the court that the Church of Scientology intentionally seeks out “vulnerable” people with the aim of turning a profit. He will also charge that the selling of vitamins constitutes the Church acting illegally as a pharmacy, and that the Church puts people in a “state of subjection” in order to persuade them to give money to the Church.

The Church’s lawyer will claim that while there may have been individual instances of corrupt behavior, they do not merit the current charge of “organized fraud.” The AP reports that he noted that individual examples of child abuse did not mean that the Catholic Church should be banned, and the analogous courtesy should be extended to the Scientologists.

The trial is projected to last until June 17.

Background: France takes Church of Scientology to court

A government committee in France advocated for the dissolution of the Church of Scientology as early as 2000. The Church has been unpopular throughout Europe and is considered a sect or cult, not a religion, by countries like France, Belgium and Germany.

However, in September 2007, the European Court of Human Rights granted Scientology religious freedom and rights. Shortly thereafter, Spain and Portugal recognized the Church as an official religion.

In Germany, intelligence agencies are allowed to monitor the Church, sanctioned by a 2004 ruling that Scientologists “were a threat to German constitutional protections.” Although the group is growing there, many Germans remain hostile toward it and protested when famous Scientologist Tom Cruise came to the country to film the movie “Valkyrie.”

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