Languages
Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Scientologists convicted of fraud

File photo of Scientology's Celebrity Centre in Paris, may 2009
Scientology's Celebrity Centre in Paris was fined in the ruling

A French court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud, but stopped short of banning the group from operating in France.

Two branches of the group's operations and several of its leaders in France have been fined.

The case came after complaints from two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into paying more than 20,000 euros (£18,100) in the 1990s.

A Scientology spokesman told the BBC the verdict was "all bark and no bite".

France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion.

Prosecutors had asked for the group's French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.

Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church's Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine.

Alain Rosenberg, the group's head in France, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined 30,000 euros.

Three other leading members of the group were also fined.

Ban 'still possible'

Unlike the US, France has always refused to recognise Scientology as a religion, arguing that it is a purely commercial operation designed to make as much money as it can at the expense of often vulnerable victims, the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby reports from Paris.

Scientology official Eric Roux at court in Paris, 27 October 2009
Religious freedom is in danger in this country
Eric Roux
French Celebrity Centre spokesman

Over the past 10 years, France has taken several individual members of the group to court on charges of fraud and misleading publicity, but this is the first time the organisation itself has been charged, she says.

Tommy Davis, spokesman for the Church of Scientology International, told BBC News that the court had acted "in total violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and French constitutional guarantees on freedom".

The case "fell flat on its face", he said.

"The fines will get thrown out on appeal. We've had similar cases before and in other countries. If it has to go to the court of human rights we're confident we will win there."

Speaking by phone from the US, he said it was a "political gesture" against the organisation, but "Scientology will continue to grow in France".

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by the late science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and includes Hollywood stars such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

Manipulation claims

In the case leading up to Tuesday's ruling, a woman said she was sold expensive life-improvement courses, vitamins and other products after taking a personality test.

A second woman alleges she was fired by her Scientologist boss after refusing to undergo testing and sign up to courses.

The organisation denied that any mental manipulation took place.

The court was unable to impose a ban because of a legal amendment that was passed just before the trial began, preventing the banning of an organisation convicted of fraud.

However, that amendment has now been changed.

"It is very regrettable that the law quietly changed before the trial," Georges Fenech, the head of the Inter-ministerial Unit to Monitor and Fight Cults, told French TV.

"The system has now been put in place by parliament and it is certain that in the future, if new offences are committed, a ban could eventually be pronounced," he said.

A lawyer defending Scientology's operations in France said there would be an appeal.

Eric Roux, a spokesman for the Celebrity Centre, urged France to recognise Scientology's "legality".

"Religious freedom is in danger in this country," he said.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Crash director quits Scientology
27 Oct 09 |  Americas
Scientology on trial in France
25 May 09 |  Europe
Scientology 'faces French trial'
08 Sep 08 |  Europe
Scientologists face Paris ban
23 Feb 02 |  Europe

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific