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Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 14:53 UK

Scientology 'faces French trial'

Church of Scientology headquarters in Paris
France keeps Scientology sites under surveillance

The Church of Scientology in France will be tried in court for "organised fraud", according to legal sources.

The lawyer for one of the plaintiffs behind the case told the BBC that if convicted the controversial Church could be banned.

The Church has faced stiff opposition in France as well as Germany, where it has been declared unconstitutional.

The French branch of the Church of Scientology said it had been cleared of "numerous" similar charges.

It said such charges should not be brought to court again.

This case stems from claims by a woman who said she was approached by Scientologists in a Paris street in 1998 and offered a free personality test.

She says she ended up handing over more than 20,000 euros (16,000) for courses, books, illegally prescribed drugs and an "electrometer" supposed to measure fluctuations in her mental state.

Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the woman and for one other plaintiff in the case, says the case could be brought before the court by the end of the year or in early 2009.

'Commercial operation'

Scientology was founded in the United States in the 1950s by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard.

It has attracted stars such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and the late Isaac Hayes.

But it been accused in some countries of cult-like practices and exploiting its followers financially.

Scientologists reject this and say that they promote a religion based on the understanding of the human spirit.

France refuses to recognise Scientology as a religion, categorising it as a purely commercial operation and keeping it under surveillance.

In Germany last year, federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology unconstitutional, and in France in 2000 a government committee recommended dissolving the Church.

However, in October a Spanish court ruled that the Church of Scientology of Spain should be re-entered into the country's register of officially recognised religions.


SEE ALSO
Row over Scientology video
14 May 07 |  Americas
Scientologists in German push
13 Jan 07 |  Europe
Holmes 'becomes a Scientologist'
14 Apr 06 |  Entertainment
Scientologists face Paris ban
23 Feb 02 |  Europe
Cruise lobbies over Scientology
30 Jan 02 |  Entertainment

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