FRANCE’S top appeals court has upheld a fraud conviction and fines totalling hundreds of thousands of euros against the Church of Scientology, for taking advantage of vulnerable followers.
The Cour de Cassation rejected the organisation’s request that a 2009 conviction for “organised fraud” be overturned on the grounds it violated religious freedoms.
The conviction saw Scientology’s Celebrity Centre and its bookshop in Paris, the two branches of its French operations, ordered to pay 600,000 euros ($812,000) in fines for preying financially on followers in the 1990s.
The original ruling, while stopping short of banning the group from operating in France, dealt a blow to the secretive movement best known for its Hollywood followers, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
France regards Scientology as a cult, not a religion, and had prosecuted individual Scientologists before, but the 2009 trial marked the first time the organisation as a whole had been convicted.
The head of a parliamentary group on religious cults in France, lawmaker Georges Fenech, hailed the ruling.
“Far from being a violation of freedom of religion, as this American organisation contends, this decision lifts the veil on the illegal and highly detrimental practices” of the group, said Fenech.