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Friday, November 4, 2011

Scientology church appeals French fraud conviction

November 03, 2011

The Church of Scientology’s appeal of its fraud conviction opened Thursday in a court in France, with defense lawyers planning to argue that Scientologists’ freedom of religion and association were curtailed by the ruling.

In 2009, a court convicted the church’s French branch, its bookstore and six of its leaders of organized fraud. The group was accused of pressuring members into paying large sums for questionable remedies and using “commercial harassment’’ against recruits.

The group and bookstore were fined euro600,000 ($830,000). Four leaders were given suspended sentences of between 10 months and two years. Two others were fined.

While Scientology is recognized as a religion in the U.S., Sweden and Spain, it is not considered one under French law.

In the original complaint, a young woman said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of euro21,000 ($29,000) on books, courses and “purification packages’’ after being recruited in 1998. When she sought reimbursement and to leave the group, its leadership refused to allow either. She was among three eventual plaintiffs.

In that trial, prosecutors had tried to get the group disbanded in France and fined euro2 million ($2.8 million). But the court declined, in the end, to even take the lesser step of shutting down its operations, saying that French Scientologists would have continued their activities anyway “outside any legal framework.’’

The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems. It claims 10 million members around the world, including celebrity devotees Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

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