“This year the movement was hit by scandal in Florida when senior members defected and alleged routine physical attacks by the church’s leader, David Miscavige – allegations the church denies. But it is France that is threatening to become the organisation’s nemesis. Scientology has no religious status in France, and in the 90s it was included in a government inquiry’s list of sects. The Church of Scientology says it has six churches and six missions in France, totalling 45,000 members. The French government puts the membership at between 2,000 and 3,000.
Along with the Lopez case, there is an ongoing investigation into a 2008 kidnapping case in which Martine Boublil, a 48-year-old Frenchwoman, is said to have been found being held, half-naked, on a vermin-infested mattress in a house in Sardinia. She filed a complaint saying that her brother – an ex-doctor and prominent Scientologist – had kidnapped her, trying to treat her psychological problems himself. The Church of Scientology and Boublil’s brother, Claude, denies she was kidnapped and described the case as a “tragic family affair” that the media had sought to exploit.
But this May the most serious fraud trial that the Church of Scientology has faced anywhere in the world opened in Paris. Not only were six important French Scientologists placed in the dock for organised fraud and illegally practising as pharmacists – for selling vitamins classed as medication in France – but, for the first time, the Church itself was accused of organised fraud. In a historic move, the state prosecutor requested that the judges dismantle and dissolve Paris’s two flagship Scientology premises: the Celebrity Centre and its bookshop in the capital. The verdict is due at the end of October, and the world is watching. If the Paris centres are shut, it will limit Scientology’s operations in France and may have implications elsewhere.
In May, Aude-Claire Malton, a former hotel housekeeper, took the stand against the Church of Scientology at the Palais de Justice in Paris. She described how, depressed after a relationship failed, she met a group of Scientologists at a Metro exit and filled in their personality test questionnaire. A few days later, the Church of Scientology called her to fix an appointment at the Celebrity Centre. “They told me I was in a very uneven state, and that they could help me by giving me some courses.” The first course cost €20, but immediately afterwards she was offered a “package” of several sessions for €4,800. She emptied several savings accounts, her life insurance policy, and took out a loan to pay for more courses on the advice of her Scientology personal financial adviser.
Asked by the judge how she could have spent so much, she said: “You have to understand, you’re in the brouhaha of the Scientology Centre where everyone repeats to you: ‘You must continue, you’re making progress, you’re going to be able to better yourself, all this is for you.’ “
One of the products she spent money on was a full-time 10-day “purification” treatment, where she would take vitamins, then go for a run, then undertake two, three or four hours of sauna. She said she lost four kilos and emerged exhausted. “I had to do it if I wanted to progress,” she said.
The judge read out a document described as Malton’s Scientology programme: “Move house, get money for life insurance, pay back €16,000, resign.” She said the organisation wanted her to work for them at the Celebrity Centre, where she would get courses as part of her pay. They wanted her to move into shared accommodation to cut her costs. But her family and ex-boyfriend stepped in and persuaded her to quit Scientology.
Summing up, the French state prosecutor slammed a “universe of secret rules” and deliberate, planned, fraudulent manoeuvres. She criticised the movement’s personality tests and electrometers, which she said were designed to impress and deceive members.”
To read the entire story go here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/29/scientology-france-legal