Church of Scientology appeals French fraud conviction
The Church of Scientology launched an appeal Thursday of a French court ruling that found it guilty of fraud for fleecing vulnerable followers and fined it hundreds of thousands of euros.
The 2009 conviction saw Scientology's Celebrity Centre and its bookshop in Paris, the two branches of its French operations, ordered to pay 600,000 euros (820,000 dollars) in fines for preying financially on several followers in the 1990s.
Arriving for the hearing at a Paris court, the group's spokesman Eric Roux said he hoped the appeal would "expose the truth of this matter, which was judged in a scandalous manner the first time."
The original ruling, while it stopped short of banning the group from operating in France, dealt a blow to the movement best known for its Hollywood followers such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Alain Rosenberg, the French leader of the movement, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined 30,000 euros on the same charge of fraud.
Five more Scientologists were given fines ranging from 1,000 to 20,000 euros for fraud or the illegal practice of pharmacy after plaintiffs said they were given vitamins and concoctions to improve their mental state.
France regards Scientology as a cult, not a religion, and has prosecuted individual Scientologists before, but the case marked the first time the organisation as a whole had been convicted.
Olivier Morice, a lawyer for Unadfi, an organisation that campaigns against sects and is a plaintiff in the case, said the appeal was unfounded and accused the movement of being a business instead of a religion.
"For us, Scientology is a business, whose main goal is to elicit money from its followers," he said outside the court.
© 2011 AFP