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Eleven members of the Belgian branch of the group and two affiliated organisations have gone on trial accused of fraud, extortion and running a criminal organisation.
A trial against the Church of Scientology started last week in Brussels.
Eleven members of the Belgian branch, as well as two affiliated bodies, the Belgian Scientology church itself, and the church in Europe are being judged. A conviction could lead to a ban in the country.
The charges the members of the Church of Scientology are facing include: fraud, extortion, running a criminal organization, violating privacy laws and practising illegal medicine.
FORMER MEMBERS SPEAK OUT
According to the congregation's former treasurer, Scientology Belgium made about €2,000 a week from book sales and €3,000 from courses and training.
She said 9.5% of all income went to the mother church in Los Angeles, while 3% was transferred to the European head office in Copenhagen, Le Soir newspaper reported.
The treasurer, who worked for the church until 2005, said she was not paid but was not required to pay the church’s fees, while her husband contributed about €10,000 for a course to become a “professional auditor.”
Scientology members are encouraged to have “auditing sessions”, where those who want to advance to the so-called “clear state” in the organisation, are interrogated by an auditor through a device called “E-meter.”
A man who chaired the Scientology's Belgian branch in the early 2000s told the court that worshippers paid up to €2,000 for a 10-day "purification programme" which they believe will help them to progress to the ”bridge of total freedom”, a necessary step to become “clear.”
"It involves sauna sessions, plenty of sleep, running, healthy eating and taking supplements", he explained.
INVESTIGATED SINCE 1997
The charges are the result of two separate investigations by Belgian authorities. One in 1997, after several former members complained about its practices. The other from 2008, when an employment agency accused the church of making fake job offers in an attempt to recruit new members, AFP reported.
Chris Meganck, a spokesman for the church, seemed to welcome the Belgium trial, as a chance to clear Scientology's name: "Finally, we get the opportunity to respond to this whole series of accusations, insinuations and claims that have been spread with a lot of enthusiasm and exaggeration,” he told Belgium’s Flanders News.
The trial is expected to last a month.
A CONTROVERSIAL GROUP
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by the American science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. It is recognised as a religion in the US and in some other countries such as Italy, Spain, and Sweden, and claims a worldwide membership of 12 million in 165 countries. The group’s headquarters are in Los Angeles.
However, the organisation is known for exaggerating their statistics, by sometimes counting as members all the people who participates in their courses.
Besides, in some countries their legal situation is not very clear. In fact, on October 21, The Dutch court decided that the sales of the Church’s expensive courses and therapy sessions are clearly aimed at making a profit, and thus it does not belong on the tax authorities’ charity list.
In 2009, a French court convicted the group of fraud and fined it nearly $900,000, though it stopped short of expelling the organization from the country.