Scientology was convicted of organized fraud in France, in a ruling issued on Tuesday by a court in Paris. According to French law the Scientology organization is regarded as a sect in the country, and not a religion. The organization is heavily monitored by the government of Germany, and has been prosecuted in multiple other countries as well.
The Scientology "Celebrity Centre" in France was fined 400,000 euros, and a Scientology bookstore received a fine of 200,000 euros. According to the verdict of the French court, the Scientology organization was found guilty of taking advantage of its followers, and of "commercial harassment" of potential new members.
Alain Rosenberg, the head of Scientology in the country, received a fine of 30,000 euros in addition to a suspended prison term of two-years. There were six total defendants. Three other officials within the Scientology organization received convictions of organized fraud, in addition to suspended prison terms ranging from 10 months to two years in duration. The remaining two defendants in the case received fines of 1,000 and 2,000 euros.
"This is an important and historic decision because it is the first time that Scientology has been found guilty of involvement in organized fraud," said Olivier Morice, a laywer for for the civil parties to the case.
Members of Scientology have been convicted of fraud in past in France, in Lyon in 1997 and Marseille in 1999. Scientology claims 45,000 in France out of 12 million worldwide.
Prosecutors in the case had asked the French court to fine the Scientology organization 2 million euros, and also to order its operations to cease in the country. The court did not rule for the organization to be dissolved in France, explaining that Scientology would have likely continued its operations "outside any legal framework".
Unlike the United States, where Scientology is considered a religion and therefore has a tax-exempt status, there is no such recognition or status for the Church in France, where it is considered a sect. Furthermore, a recently passed French law forbids French courts of dissolving groups on the basis of fraud.
In response to the law, Georges Fenech, head of the Inter-ministerial Unit to Monitor and Fight Cults, speaking on the television channel France 24 said, "It is very regrettable that the law quietly changed before the trial. The system has now been put in place by parliament and it is certain that in the future, if new offences are committed, a ban could eventually be pronounced."
The legal representative of the Church of Scientology in France, Eric Roux, said the church will appeal the verdict citing intense media and political pressure during the trial. However, he also praised the verdict saying, "The court said that in France, Scientology should continue. And on that point they are very right. This is the fair part of the verdict. That would end any odd idea that the church should end in France. Scientology is recognized everywhere in the world and France must step up to international standards. That is good for the church."