Scientology in France: Still Guilty of Fraud
French Scientologists had held protests outside the appeals court in Paris
Big news this morning out of a French appeals court, where a decision was handed down regarding Scientology's 2009 conviction for fraud.
Scientology watchers around the world have been keeping an eye on the proceedings, which were wild and woolly: in November, Scientology's entire contingent of attorneys and defendants stormed out of the courtroom, complaining about how the case was proceeding.
Well, now they have even more to be steamed about. At about 4 am our time this morning, the Court of Appeal in Paris upheld the 2009 convictions of two Scientology organizations and five individuals, as well as about $800,000 in fines.
I talked by phone this morning with Jonny Jacobsen, a British journalist who has spent years covering Scientology in France, and who has covered every technicality and court maneuver in the appeal at his blog, Infinite Complacency.
I asked him just how big this news is in France itself.
"It's pretty big. It's not the top story, but Scientology gets a lot of coverage over here," he said. "And the coverage is so much more lively over here. The state organizations that are given the duty of monitoring cult-like activities, they've been in conflict with Scientology for years now."
The Associated Press is reporting that Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw has called the appellate decision a "miscarriage of justice." Scientology's attorneys plan to appeal the case to France's Court of Cassation, roughly equivalent to our Supreme Court. It is also filing complaints with the UN and the European Court of Human Rights.
"It's clear that they're taking this all the way, because I think they know how dangerous this decision is to them," Jacobsen says.
That danger, he explains, arises from how seemingly basic and unspectacular are the facts in the original cases that led to this appeal.
See, in the U.S., ex-Scientologists have struggled to get their own cases against the church through the country's courts, even though the details in those cases can be rather shocking: the forced abortions in the lawsuit brought by former church executive Claire Headley and her husband Marc, for example, which was dismissed.
What makes the French convictions so remarkable, on the other hand, is that two church entities and five individuals received fraud convictions for simply doing the basic business of Scientology.
"In some ways the cases here seem less spectacular -- the facts of the cases are much more disturbing in the US -- but this looks at the experience of normal people who have been caught at a time when they're vulnerable, and the huge amounts of money they've been required to turn over," Jacobsen says.
Here, for example, is how the AP summarizes the origin of the French fraud cases:
The case began with a legal complaint by a young woman who said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of euro21,000 ($28,000) 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.
One of the parties involved in the prosecution, the Order of Pharmacists, specifically targeted Scientology's vaunted "Purification Rundown" -- its program of "detoxification" that consists of 5-hour sauna sessions for days and weeks, and enormous doses of the vitamin niacin. (We recently interviewed a young actor who gave up the process after gray material began oozing from his skin and he began vomiting uncontrollably after 29 straight days of the treatment. Kirstie Alley, however, credits the "Purif" for ending her cocaine addiction.)
In France, at least, Scientology's Purification Rundown has been found to be an illegal exercise of pharmacy.
"Can Scientology now run the Purif the way it has?" Jacobsen asks. "One of the prosecutors brought up the point that children have been doing the Purif, and that got a big reaction in court."
Jacobsen says that there can be enormous consequences for Scientology in France and elsewhere because of the upheld convictions.
"It leaves the door open for other cases, which could lead to the dissolution or banning of Scientology in France altogether, whether you consider that a good idea or not."
Jacobsen says that the case has been followed closely by governments in other European countries and in Australia. (Scientology is not considered a religion in France.)
"This is taking on international damage for them," he says.
I asked him about the general tenor of coverage in the French press during the trial.
"The general view of Scientology is one of suspicion. The media has given a lot of coverage to former members and their complaints. I think the coverage has been balanced and fair, but there has been a certain amount of exasperation over Scientology's legal and technical maneuvers," he says.
Scientology is known for legal tactics that can wear down courtrooms and judges, as we pointed out yesterday. In this case, the church objected to the court allowing the participation of an anti-cult organization, UNADFI, which is subsidized by the French government. When UNADFI was allowed to stay, Scientology's entire contingent of attorneys stormed out of the courtroom and refused to participate any further.
"I don't think it's unprecedented, but the pharmacy organization lawyer said that in his 20 years of practice, he'd never seen it," Jacobsen says.
He points out that today, Scientology denounced the proceedings as a "ghost trial."
"A ghost trial? In part that was because they chose to walk out," Jacobsen says. "For them to say now that it was a ghost trial is a bit like overegging the cake, I have to say."
Back here in the United States, meanwhile, we're keeping an eye on another remarkable legal development involving Scientology, which is suing a former executive, Debbie Cook, for daring to utter criticisms of church management to her fellow members. Check back here for the latest developments.
Debbie Cook Coverage in the Village Voice...
Also, please see our primer, "What is Scientology?"
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[All recent stories] | [What is Scientology?] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] [Commenters of the Week] | [Thursday 2pm Stats!] | [Scientology vs. South Park] [This Week Aboard the Apollo] | [Sunday Funnies]
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"] [Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology] [Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?] [Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach] [Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon] [Paulette Cooper, Scientology's original and worst nightmare: a Thanksgiving tribute]
THE TOP 25 PEOPLE CRIPPLING SCIENTOLOGY
1. L. Ron Hubbard | 2. David Miscavige | 3. Marty Rathbun | 4. Tom Cruise | 5. Joe Childs and Tom Tobin | 6. Anonymous | 7. Mark Bunker | 8. Mike Rinder | 9. Jason Beghe | 10. Lisa McPherson | 11. Nick Xenophon | 12. Tommy Davis | 13. Janet Reitman | 14. Tory Christman | 15. Andreas Heldal-Lund | 16. Marc and Claire Headley | 17. Jefferson Hawkins | 18. Amy Scobee | 19. The Squirrel Busters | 20. Trey Parker and Matt Stone | 21. Kendrick Moxon | 22. Jamie DeWolf | 23. Ken Dandar | 24. Dave Touretzky | 25. Xenu
HELD ABOARD THE FREEWINDS: TALES OF THE SEA ORG
[Valeska Paris, held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology's cruise ship] [Ramana Dienes-Browning, marriage at 16, sexual interrogation, life in the engine room] [Melissa Paris, Valeska's sister: forced to marry at 16]
SCIENTOLOGY VS. SOUTH PARK: INVESTIGATION AS RETALIATION
[Scientology targeted South Park's Parker and Stone in an investigation] [More documents in the South Park probe: instructions to send in a young mole] [Scientology responds in typical fashion] | [Lloyd Kaufman confirms the probe] [Mark Ebner also investigated after South Park involvement] [Mark Chauppetta, private eye, explains what Scientology operatives look for]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties] In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview] The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley] [Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?] Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2] [A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession] [Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine] [Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice] [Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here's Your Media Training Checksheet!] [Tom Cruise and X Factor's Stacy Francis singing together on the Freewinds] [X Factor's Stacy Francis: Her first husband, Michael Sandlofer, answers abuse claims] [Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay] ["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise] [Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church] [Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice] [Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense] [Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis] [Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"] Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo] [Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]
JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid] [Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post] [A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
["The Money Machine": another blockbuster St. Pete Times investigation] [Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview] [Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams] [86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology in Israel: Arson, attempted murder, paranoia -- and a visit by the Voice!] [Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested] [All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots] [Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"] [Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails] [Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology chillin' with hip hop!] | [The curious career of Scientology rapper Chill EB] [Chill EB and me: the Voice interviews Scientology's in-house rapper] [Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"] [Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!] [Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam] [When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers] [Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.] [Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] [Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family] [Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle] [Desperate Scientology fundraising caught on video]
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter