An appeals court in Paris upheld fraud convictions involving two central organizations connected to the Scientology Church in France.
The Celebrity Center was fined 400,000 euro and the Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology (ASES), an affiliated bookstore, was fined 200,000 euro for their role in the fraud.
In addition, five senior Scientology officials, including Alain Rosenberg, the president, were convicted of fraud and deception and given heavy fines as well as suspended prison sentences. Rosenberg was fined 30,000 euro and given a two-year suspended sentence.
The Church of Scientology was convicted of fraud in a lower court in 2009. The case followed complaints filed by two former church members, who said they had been cheated out of money by the organization. One of them said she had given 21,000 euro to the organization. After leaving the group, she asked to be reimbursed, but the Church of Scientology refused, she told the court.
This isn't the first time fraud charges were brought against the cult. Scientology, founded in the 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, immediately drew harsh criticism. The main charge is that it makes exaggerated demands of money from its members and uses a variety of means to exercise undue influence over them.
Scientology, which is known as "the wealthiest cult in the world," received the status of a religion in the United States and in several European countries. However, in the late 1990s, state commissions of inquiry in France and Belgium determined that it is a cult. (A Belgian prosecutor, Jean-Claude Van Espen, who studied the church's activities for 10 years, went so far as to ask that it be classified a criminal organization.)
Government reports in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Israel have similarly determined that Scientology is a cult.
The French appeals court confirmed that Scientology is a fraud. It accepted the testimonies of former cult members who described how they had been cheated of huge sums of money.
It also heard testimony from representatives of the National Union of Associations Defending Family and Individual Victims of Sects, who described the devastating effects of membership in the Scientology cult: debts, financial ruin, broken families, and a general feeling of being enslaved. The situation is a direct result of the "cult tactics" that Scientology employs on vulnerable people, representatives said.
French jurists noted that the ruling is a precedent in that it convicts the church itself of fraud, not just its leaders. Observers are now waiting to see whether the ruling will lead to a ban of the cult and an end to its activities.
Yad L'Achim, which has led the battle against cults in Israel, applauded the ruling. In recent years, Yad L'Achim conducted a campaign that helped close two of the cult's centers in Jerusalem and has brought its sole school in Israel, located in Yehud-Monsoon, to be on the verge of closing.
Despite these successes, Yad L'Achim officials stress that the cult is very active in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities. According to Yad L'Achim's information, thousands of Israelis participate regularly in cult activities.
"We will continue to act to heighten awareness of the danger, to awaken people to the cult's fraud and deception, and to hope that the court ruling in France will put brakes on the cult worldwide," an official said this week.