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French scientologists head for supreme court

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French scientologists head for supreme court
In France alone the Church of Scientology counts some 45,000 followers, and 10 million worldwide. FIle photo of a French Scientology centre: Guirec Lefort/Flickr
14:03 CEST+02:00
The Church of Scientology in France has gone to the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn guilty verdicts on fraud charges for which it was hit with a €600,000 fine. The Church said the 2009 ruling violated its “religious freedom”.

On Wednesday, judges at France's Supreme Court re-examined the 2009 guilty verdicts for "organised fraud" and the subsequent fines of €400,000 and €200,000 handed down to the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a Scientology bookshop in the French capital.

In the original ruling, Scientology leader  in Paris, Alain Rosenburg and the Celebrity Centre's former president Sabine Jacquart were also found guilty of taking financial advantage of elderly members of the Church and sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentences as well as being handed a €30,000 fine for organized fraud.

The charges resulted from accusations by Parisians that they had been pressured into handing over large sums of money to buy matierials in the book shop and Celebrity Centre.

The Church’s decision to take the case to the Supreme Court of appeal known as the Cour de Cassation, comes one year after it failed to convince a lower court of appeal to overturn the original verdicts and sentences.

The Celebrity Centre has rejected the charges as “totally false and inequitable”, according to Direct Matin, complaining the trial had “numerous irregularities and in which the fundamental rights of scientologists were violated”.

Speaking in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, lawyer Louis Boré denied that the church had ever asked for money from its followers

If the appeal is rejected, the Church could take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, the lawyer added, citing Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

This isn’t the first time the Church of Scientology has been touched by scandal in France

In 1996, Jean-Jacques Mazier, leader of the Lyon branch of the Church, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for fraud and involuntary homicide after Church member Patrice Vic committed suicide after going into debt to pay for Scientology auditing sessions.

In 2008 Kaja Bordevich Ballo, a Norwegian student living in Nice, killed herself after receiving the results of a negative Scientology personality test. However, prosecutors failed to find a direct link between the test and the woman’s suicide.

While the Church is considered as a religion in the US where it was founded in 1954 by science-fiction author Ron Hubbard, it is classed as a “sect” in France, following a parliamentary report in 1995.

In France alone the Church of Scientology counts some 45,000 followers, and 10 million worldwide. 

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