Scientology Facing Murky Future in France

The Church of Scientology faces trial on deletion fraud charges in Paris, with the possibility that the organization, which claims around 5,000 active members in France in addition to a bevy of Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, could be banned in France if it loses.

While it enjoys an active presence in the U.S. -- it has been recognized as a religious organization by the I.R.S. since 1993 -- Scientology has faced strong opposition from French authorities.

France has refused to acknowledge Scientology as a religion, and Miviludes, the French government agency in charge of protecting its citizens from sectarian manipulations, has warned French citizens against participating.

"Scientology is a dangerous movement," Milivudes president Jean-Michel Roulet told ABCNews.com. "It puts pressure on its victims, it tries to intimidate them and blackmails them."

Isabelle Montagne, spokesperson with the Paris court of Justice, told ABCNews.com that if Scientology is found guilty of fraud or illegal practice of medical activities, the president of the Paris Scientology Celebrity Centre, one of the biggest centers in France, could be sentenced to seven years in prison and the organization could be forced to close its doors.

Part of the French wariness of Scientology likely stems from a culture that is skeptical of any purported religious organization that requires members to pay money, says Roulet, who says members spend up to $40,000 within their first years in Scientology.

"It is possible for members to pay that amount within a few years," Daniele Gounord, spokesperson for Scientology in France, told ABCNews.com. "It is possible, if a member is willing to progress fast."

"This does not fit with the French mentality," answered Roulet. "At church you are free to give money or not. We are not used to religions in which you have to pay for everything."

Scientology: 'A Dangerous Movement'

In the latest legal challenge, the plaintiff in the fraud case reportedly says she was approached by Scientologists on a Paris street in 1998 and offered a free personality test. She says she was pressured to spend more than $28,000 for courses, books, illegally prescribed drugs and an "electrometer" that was supposed to measure fluctuations in her mental state, according to the BBC.

Gounord said the person who is accusing Scientology of fraud and illegal practice of pharmacy has been reimbursed by Scientology. "We have never been found guilty of fraud by a court," she said.

In 2002 the organization was found to have violated France's data privacy law after a former member said he was still receiving mail from the organization despite having asked that his name be removed from their database.

The organization and the president of its Paris center were each ordered to pay $7,000, though the fines were later suspended

Gounord said the organization kept the former member's personal data by accident. "That was a technical problem," she said, "no one really understood what happened.

"It's just a lot of noise about nothing," Gounord told ABCNews.com. "The case is empty. We are not worried at all."

According to Roulet, legal procedures against Scientology are often laborious and the organization has often been acquitted.

"They have a lot of money and they can afford to pay a lot of lawyers," said Roulet.

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