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Fifty-one leaders of the Church of Scientology from eight...

MADRID, Spain -- Fifty-one leaders of the Church of Scientology from eight nations face charges of extortion, forgery and tax offenses following police raids, a judicial source said Monday.

Hebert Jentzsch of Los Angeles, 53, worldwide director of the faith, was among the 69 suspects detained Sunday during an international scientology congress at a luxury hotel in downtown Madrid. Eighteen of those arrested were released Monday, the source said.

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Among those being held were Scientology leaders from the United States, Britain, Portugal, Denmark, Venezuela, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

Police searched 26 of the group's offices across Spain Sunday, shutting two of them down for a few hours, and seizing bundles of documents.

The widespread police action culminated nine months of undercover investigation during which 30 telephone taps were installed, said examining magistrate Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia.

Charges against the church include falsification of public documents, extortion, tax evasion and capital flight.

At least one alleged kidnapping of a teenager, said Vazquez Honrubia, was also under investigation.

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1950 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its activities in Spain center on a drug rehabilitation program known as Narconon and a spiritual group called the Civil Dianetic Association.

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In Washington, the Rev. Brian Anderson, vice president of the Church of Scientology International, reacted strongly to the arrests.

'The Dianetics and Narconon organzations emphatically condemn the outrageous acts of flagrant injustice committed by the judge's instructions,' he said in a statement.

'The judge's actions at the behest of special interest groups is a spiteful retaliation against the Dianetic's organization's vigorous and unrelenting campaign against the psychiatric drugging of children with Rubifen,' the statement added.

Sylvia Stanard, a church spokeswoman in Washington, said the words 'special interest groups' referred to 'psychiatrists and others that were involved in wanting people to be on drugs.'

The Anderson statement said that 'Narconon in Spain is the most effective organization in handling drug addiction' and that it 'saved thousands of Spaniards from the devastating effects of drug abuse over the last few years.'

'Despite this unjust attack we are continuing our work in getting people off drugs,' Anderson said.

'Our organizations are here to stay and expand,' he said, adding a new facility is set to open in southern Spain.

The church operates in about 30 countries. Stanard denied earlier reports in Spain and said the church had never been outlawed in Switzerland or West Germany.

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