French High Court Set to Rule on Scientology Case

The organization, which promotes its strong Hollywood and celebrity ties abroad, is appealing a conviction on charges of "organized fraud."

PARIS – Scientology is again on trial in France, with the high court here set to hand down a final decision on charges of "organized fraud" and fines of $790,500 (€600,000) against the church stemming from a 2009 case.

This is the last stop for the case in France. If the appeal is rejected, the church says it will bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights.

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The case started in 2009 with charges from two plaintiffs who claimed they were defrauded of $26,360 (€20,000) and $65,250 (€49,500) for materials they said they were coerced into buying.

In 2012, an appeals court upheld the fraud charges and fines for pushing the members into spending thousands on church offerings including personality tests, vitamin cures, sauna sessions and purification packs. The fines of $527,310 (€400,000) and $263,660 (€200,000) were levied against the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Paris and its bookstore.

In addition to the fines, four church members including the "de facto leader" of Scientology Paris, Alain Rosenberg, and the former president of the Celebrity Centre, Sabine Jacquart, were given two-year suspended jail sentences.

Scientology, which promotes its strong Hollywood and celebrity ties with stars such as Tom Cruise internationally, has consistently been under the microscope in France. In 2009, the church escaped an outright ban that was expected to coincide with the first court case, but sailed through due to a technicality in the timing of a new law targeting organizations convicted of fraud.

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French courts fined the church for violating privacy and data protection laws in 2002, and it was classified as a "sect" in a 1996 parliamentary report.

If the appeal is rejected by the French high court, the church has already announced plans to bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights, citing the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion, as the basis for their case. The church has had better luck there, with the European court calling a Russian ban on the church illegal in a 2007 case.

There are an estimated 45,000 Church of Scientology members in France.