Marketplace Scratch Pad

Scientology on trial in France

Scott Jagow May 26, 2009

The US considers Scientology a religion and gives it tax-exempt status. France considers Scientology a dangerous, money-grubbing sect that preys on people. This week, a French court is hearing arguments in a case that could kick the E-meters out of France for good.

The Church of Scientology is accused of fraud and operating a pharmacy illegally. One of the three plantiffs says she spent her life savings ($29,400) on books, courses, vitamins and “purification packages” after she was recruited in 1998. When she asked for her money back because she wanted out of the group, the leadership refused. From AP:

Investigating judge Jean-Christophe Hullin spent years examining the group’s activities, and in his indictment criticized practices he said were aimed at extracting large sums of money from members and plunging them into a “state of subjection.”

The investigator questioned what he called the Scientologists’ “obsession” with financial gain, and the group’s practice of selling vitamins, leading to the charge of “acting illegally as a pharmacy.”

Obsession with financial gain, despite having non-profit status in some countries.
Scientology’s lawyer says there was no organized fraud, although he says there could’ve been individual abuses. He was quoted in a French magazine as saying: “The discovery of a pedophile priest does not allow us to question the entire Catholic Church.”

But if Scientology loses this case, there’s a good chance the “church” will be dissolved in France. The French have been trying for a long time. They convicted Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard of fraud in 1978. He was never imprisoned because he was on the run. Hubbard was also banned from the UK and investigated by the IRS for skimming millions of dollars off the top of Scientology’s books.

It’ll be interesting to see if the French prosecutors succeed. There are other countries who might love to kick Scientology to the curb. Canada, Germany, Greece, Belgium and the UK all refuse to grant Scientology religious recognition.

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