More expensive than being Catholic

Members of the Scientology cult on trial for the first time in spectacular case, but the soul-robbers are protected by the Constitution

Paris, France
1996 Issue 41
Der Spiegel

In what was to be his last night on earth, Patrice Vic, 31, tossed and turned in his bed, recalls his wife Nelly. About five in the morning he rose from his slumber and, with the words "the only solution", he jumped from his twelfth-story balcony to the abyss below. The reason the once happy man from Lyon was in a state of depression was that this father of two could not scrape together the 30,000 franks he needed for an inner "purification." The purification company that lost a customer was France's Scientology cult.

His young widow filed a criminal complaint, but it was seven and a half years before the people who first turned the industrial designer into an unapproachable loner with their constantly increasing demands for money and then drove him to suicide with their psycho-terrorism were brought to court. The criminal court hearing took place last week against 22 Scientologists charged with collective fraud and illegally practicing medicine, and against Jean-Jacques Mazier, cult chief at the time, who was also charged with homicide.

For it was said to be this man with the prominent chin who would not let his victim escape (Vic was lured in with a seemingly harmless personality test with 200 questions). Mazier explained his cult's notorious avarice before the court by saying that being a Scientologist was more expensive than being a Catholic. The rest of the accused, including a gardener, a Catholic clergyman who has since returned home, as well as several retail workers, came from the honest French middle-class.

This is the first time the cult has been put on trial as an institution - it perceives itself to be "church" with seven million members and says it is recognized as such in the USA. Daniele Gournord, ex-president of the Paris branch and one of the accused, predicted that the future of Scientology was at stake in the Lyon trial.

In the trial the cult, which numbers about 40,000 members in the Republic (most prominent adherent: Tennis star Arnaud Boetsch), has been accused of using pseudo-scientific and para-medical methods to exploit for profit the trust and good-will of its victims, for whom it brings about psychological and medical risk.

The adepts of cult founder Ron Hubbard do not risk an official ban. The Constitution and the Declaration of Human and Citizens Rights guarantee freedom of belief. But the testimony from sixty witnesses - ranging from those who have suffered loss at the hands of Scientology to psychiatric experts - about the psycho-terrorism of the soul-robbers could put a damper on Scientology's ability to attract people.

Up to now there have been several legal proceedings against individual members, for fraud among other things, but nothing against the cult itself, outside of the decision in the highest court in France that the Scientologists, with their extensive economic operations, have no claim to the status of a charitable institution, and thus no tax exemption. Neither does Scientology have the tax advantage associated with the title of "church" in Germany.

About 943 million franks, said a police commissioner before the court, were transferred out of the country just in three years, destination: Denmark and Luxemburg. The Parisian "Celebrity Center", gathering spot for rich celebrity Hubbard adherents, proudly reported an income of 25 million franks.

Because Scientologists reported tax figures under the heading of charity, the Paris branch was order to pay 48 million franks last November. They offered to pay with a check from a Luxemburg bank, but the Paris revenue ministry refused it. One of its spokesman said that they were forbidden by law to accept money from a dubious source that has possibly been laundered. For that reason a business court ordered the liquidation of Scientology's Paris branch.

This punitive action disturbed the "Zarathustras from popcorn land" (Le Figaro) not one iota. Last year they simply reformed anew. On Rue Jules-èsar in Paris there resides a "Association spirituelle de léEglise de Scientologie déIle-de-France" in association with an incorporated group called "Centre culturel de léEglise de Scientologie" on Rue Legendre.

At the same time the cult is apparently expanding its trench warfare against its enemies. In the political district of Representative Jacques Guyard, who skewered the "harrassive" methods used by the Scientologists for "mental destabilization" in a Parliamentary report, the pseudo-church founded a negative propaganda periodical directed at the socialist. Guyard said he has received three death threats. Scientology has explained that it had nothing to do with it.

Judge George Fenech, who prepared the trial, believes he is being constantly followed, that mail has disappeared, and that three policemen who work for him have been unduly charged with "collective theft".

Psychiatrist Jean-Marie Abgrall, who gave expert testimony in Lyon, has been through a real martyrdom. A Scientology spokesman compared him with Hitler, the cult expert has been flooded with 18 criminal charges, up until the time he brought three Scientologists to court for theft of mail and attempted bribery. They admitted they were carrying out the campaign on orders from the Office of Special Affairs, the cult's intelligence service. Their pay was "good points" with which they could ascend in the system.

The Parisian government has increasing concern about the cult phenomenon. The estimated 150 to 200 pseudo-religions in France with their estimated 300,000 adherents have spread like wildfire among the young people. The Scientologists like to systematically infiltrate culture and sports associations, and have even sneaked into children's summer camps with their brochures. In the past week, Youth and Sports Minister Guy Drut said that each of the 22 French regions has been assigned a cult counselor, "Monsieur secte". Justice Minister Jacques Toubon urged his state attorneys to increase their vigilance in regards to cultists.

Cultbuster Jacques Guyard feels optimistic and believes that Lyon was a big victory.

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