French court says Scientology appeal can go ahead

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A French court on Tuesday rejected a request by Church of Scientology lawyers to dismiss an appeals case against the group's Paris branch on charges of fleecing vulnerable followers.

The lawyers raised the five constitutional questions at Thursday's start of the Scientologists' appeal against a 2009 ruling that found them guilty of fraud and fined them hundreds of thousands of euros.

Two questions were about whether the case was being dealt with "within a reasonable delay" since the incidents involved dated to the late 1990s. Three concerned the nature of individual responsibility within an organisation.

All questions were rejected, meaning the appeals trial can go ahead.

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) in fines for preying financially on several followers in the 1990s.

As part of the appeal, Scientology lawyers are trying to get the 2009 ruling annulled.

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.

The original case followed a complaint by two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into handing over 20,000 euros in 1998 for Scientology products including an "electrometer" to measure mental energy.

A second claimed she was forced by her Scientologist employer to undergo testing and enrol in courses, also in 1998. When she refused she was fired.

Founded in 1954 by US science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology is recognised as a religion in the United States. It claims a worldwide membership of 12 million and 45,000 followers in France.

© 2011 AFP

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