Reuters: French ex-Scientology leader guilty of fraud

Source: Reuters
Date: November 15, 1999

MARSEILLE, France, Nov 15, 1999 (Reuters) - A French court on Monday passed a jail sentence on a former regional leader of the Church of Scientology for fraud in connection with courses offered by the organisation.

Xavier Delamare, who formerly headed the group in southeastern France, was sentenced to two years in jail, including 18 months suspended, and fined 100,000 francs ($15,750). Because he has served 17 weeks' pre-trial detention he will not return to jail.

Five other members of the church were given suspended sentences ranging from six months to a year. One defendant, who has turned against the group and accused Delamare of sending him on suspect fund-raising missions, was cleared.

The seven Scientologists went on trial last September in connection with courses in ``spiritual purification'' organised for church members between 1987 and 1990. Charges of violence and illegally practising medicine were dropped.

Prosecutor Danielle Drouay-Ayral had recommended Delamare be sent to prison for 18 months, with another 18 months suspended, saying the group was bent on making money from its followers.

Delamare's lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne said after the verdict that the proceedings had smacked of lynch law.

The trial was marred by the disappearance of legal evidence, which authorities blamed on a court clerk's mistake.

The Church of Scientology denied any responsibility and said its opponents were waging a slander campaign by trying to blame administrative blunders on the movement.

Legal documents that could have been used as evidence against the movement in two other cases have also gone missing.

French authorities view the Church of Scientology with suspicion and publicly expressed irritation last month about a U.S. State Department report scorning official French attitudes towards the movement.

The French position was outlined to visiting U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Robert Seiple, author of a report containing criticism of Paris.

Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou has raised the prospect of banning the Church of Scientology in France.

Unlike the United States, France does not recognise Scientology as a religion. Members of the group complain of harassment and persecution.

Scientology, founded in 1954 by the late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based in the United States, claims more than eight million adherents worldwide.

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