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Church of Scientology fraud conviction upheld in France

  |   Oct. 16, 2013 at 4:05 PM
PARIS, Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The Church of Scientology said it would appeal to international tribunals after France's highest court upheld a fraud conviction Wednesday.

The Court of Cassation upheld a 2009 decision by a lower court against the French branch of the church and its bookstore and Celebrity Center in Paris, Radio France Internationale reported. The decision also let stand the convictions of five church members, including Alain Rosenberg, its head in France.

The decision upholds a 400,000 euro ($540,000) fine on the Celebrity Center, 200,000 euros ($270,000) for the bookstore and 30,000 euros ($40,000) on the individuals. Rosenberg and the others were also given two-year suspended prison sentences.

The church calls the prosecution a violation of freedom of religion and said it would appeal to an international court, probably the European Court of Human Rights. In a statement, Scientology officials said that an international court would be a forum "where the debate can be conducted on the basis of the law."

"The decision by the French Cassation Court is an affront to justice and religious liberty. The Court failed to address the fundamental violations of the human rights of each of the defendants that infected every level of this case. Despite finding that the extremist group UNADFI [National Union of Associations for the Defense of the Individual and Family] had no business participating in the case as a civil party, the Court ignored the degree to which UNADFI's participation polluted the proceedings, transforming it into a heresy trial," a statement by the church said.

The courts found that Scientology targets people who are emotionally vulnerable and then milks them for large fees. In the United States, Scientology, founded by late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is known for attracting a number of movie stars, including John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley.

"Far from being a violation of the freedom of religion, as this organisation of American origin claims, this decision exposes illicit practices that are highly damaging to the safety of people and property," said Georges Fenech, a member of Parliament for the opposition UMP party.

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