After the first plaintiff had testified, the man accused of having defrauded her told his side of the story.
Aude-Claire Malton had given her account of her time in Scientology in a fast, nervous delivery, occasionally overcome with tears.
When it was the turn of the defence lawyers to question her, they proceeded cautiously.
Maître Patrick Maisonneuve, for the defence, got her to clarify that the results of her personality test had contained positive as well as negative elements.
And he tried to establish that she had walked into the movement with her eyes wide open. Hadn’t she heard something about the Lyon trial in 1996 (which finished in several convictions for fraud and one for manslaughter (homicide involontaire) over the suicide of a Scientologist)?
Hadn’t she had some reservations when she joined? Yes, she said: she had wondered if it was a cult. She had even put the question to someone at the centre. “He said it wasn’t a cult but an association of people united for the same cause.”
Maisonneuve took her back to her success stories, the letters she had written describing how much she had benefited from her courses. He even read out an extract from one of them.
"These had not been dictated to her, had they? No, they had not, said Malton. She had written them in her own words hadn’t she? Yes, said Malton.
He asked her about the Purification Rundown, which had so exhausted her: she had gone to a doctor for a medical check-up beforehand, hadn’t she? Yes, she replied: a doctor that the people at the centre had recommended. But a doctor all the same, said Maisonneuve.
And if she was suffering during the Rundown, why had she not asked for a doctor? She explained that at the time, her attitude had been: “I am going to get through, whatever it takes.”
And why had she taken out the SOFINCO loan? She told him: “If I took the loan, it was because I felt good and I wanted to go further. In a few months I had made progress.”
Maisonneuve also asked her why, if Scientology was a close-minded cult only interested in indoctrinating her – why had they encouraged her to talk to her family? She replied only that they had coached her on what to say beforehand.
But Malton objected when another member of the defence team expressed surprise at her change of attitude after four months as a Scientologist. “I never said I wanted to be a Scientologist,” she said. “I just wanted to do the courses.”
She also rejected any suggestion that Jean-François Valli, one of the defendants, had only accompanied her to the SOFINCO bank for the loan because she had asked him to.
Other questions from the defence built on her difficulty identify some of those she said had manipulated her: she had struggled to remember the names some of those involved, despite careful questioning from the judge.
When the other two judges on the bench got a chance to put their questions, one asked about the sales sessions that had followed her evenings of study. Malton tried to be clearer about how it worked.
If she resisted their pressure to buy, they would tell her: “I’m going to explain to you again.” And they would explain for half an hour or so. If after that she still would not write a cheque, they would say: “I don’t think you have understood the value,” and start explaining again.
And again, she insisted: “You couldn’t leave the centre without having signed a cheque.”
After Malton had answered all the questions put to her, she sat down and Judge Sophie-Hélène Château, the most senior of the three judges sitting, called Jean-François Valli
'No obligation in Scientology'
Valli, 44, was one of the few people Malton had been able to name during her testimony. He faced charges of organised fraud against three people, including Malton.
He was dressed soberly in a dark suit and white shirt. In his answers to the court, though he sometimes stumbled over his sentences, he was deferential to a fault.
Valli said he had been a Scientologist since 1989. In 1998, when he met Malton, he was working as adviser-orientator at the Celebrity Centre in Paris and also did occasional work at the bookshop – the two Scientology organisations charged in this case.
He earned 5-15 percent commission on the goods and services he sold, and in 1998 had made around 100,000 francs (a little more than 15,000 euros). Today, while he still took Scientology courses, he was no long a staff member.
Valli confirmed that he had taken Aude-Claire Malton in hand after she had made her initial purchases. But he described his role in terms of helping people make the best choice, rather than forcing anyone to buy courses.
“I answered questions people had and defined services,” he said.
“When I met Mme Malton, she had followed Dianetics courses. She was happy. She had seen several films on Scientology and Dianetics.” His superviser introduced them because she wanted to do the Communications Course.
“People are generally very happy,” he continued. “When I was an advisor I only saw people who wanted to go further.”
Judge Château was particularly interested in the personality test that had drawn in Aude-Claire Malton to the movement.
But Valli said he was not trained to interpret the personality test “That wasn’t my job,” he insisted. That was a job for the auditors, Scientology's therapists, or for the people at reception.
All he had done was explain the negative and the positive points of Malton's test, adding: “I seem to remember seeing positive results.”
Later, when the judges returned to the question, he said again: “I’m not trained to interpret the test. For me, what is important is what the client tells me.”
Judge Château did not seem convinced. “It is strange that you trust what someone says more than a supposedly objective test,” she said.
While Aude-Claire Malton, had spoken about the pressure she had felt to buy more goods and services, Valli recalled it differently.
“The impression that I had was that she was someone who was fairly straightforward,” he said. “She always asked questions and she never took a decision lightly. That showed me that she was someone who knew what she was doing… We had a good relationship.”
But why had she bought so many goods and services, asked the judge? She was under no obligation, said Valli.
“She said to me, ‘I am going to do that’. She had this idea in her head. ‘Here, I will make a first payment,’” he said.
As for paying for courses three or four years in advance, he explained: “She wanted to plan it out in stages…”
Questioned about the SOFINCO bank loan, Valli said: “She asked me if I knew a bank and I told her that if she wanted she could go to SOFINCO.”
And if he accompanied her there, it was at her request, he said. “One day, she called me to go with her, to accompany her to the bank.”
A 'convivial' relationship
All he had been trying to do in his job was help other people enjoy the benefits that he had experienced with Scientology, said Valli.
“Me, I have faith in Scientology: it has brought me a lot of things in my life… When I saw Mme Malton, she really wanted to progress… That’s how it happened. At the time, she never complained about anything.”
They had had a good relationship at the time, he said: “convivial” was how he described it.
Judge Château asked him about the prices in Scientology. He had given Malton a brochure with all the packages available so she had all the information she needed, he said.
But wasn’t it the case that the prices themselves were not handed out, asked the judge?
“For me, it was a lot simpler to provide prices on the computer,” he replied.
He was questioned closely as to why the prices seemed to vary dramatically between different clients for the same item – the e-meter device used in Scientology’s therapy, for example.
Valli insisted that the prices were the same for everyone: any variations were down to the different packages purchased along with the items in question.
He was questioned too on Scientology’s use of the word “donations” to describe payments for these goods and services.
“You call it that,” said Judge Château, “but in fact they are prices.”
“For me they are contributions,” said Valli. “If a person has signed up for a service – if she realises that she has had spiritual help – it is not just for her, but for her church.”
Questioned again on this point a little later, he added: “It is a contribution. It is for a service but at the same time it is to help her Church. For me, it is a contribution.”
He himself had spent tens of thousands of euros on Scientology, he added.
He was questioned on this issue several times, both by the bench and the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Olivier Morice. And when one judge expressed scepticism about the use of the terms “donation” and “contribution” in this context, he intervened.
“Sorry, for me this is important. You are in a church: this is not a purchase, it is a contribution… When I make a contribution to the Church, in return I will be able to benefit from the auditing and it allows the church to continue to function.”
Asked about the success stories Malton had mentioned, Valli denied that she had been forced to write them after finishing her courses.
“They have to be spontaneous. There is no obligation in Scientology,” he said again. “I don’t see the interest in lying to oneself. If she wants do it, she can: if she doesn’t, she doesn’t.”
But if she wasn’t happy with a course, could she continue, asked Judge Château? Yes, said Valli.
“If it is a course then she can do part of the course again… You are not going to encourage a person to continue to the next stage if they are unhappy with the one they have done.”
Then it was the turn of Oliver Morice, the lawyer for the two remaining plaintiffs. Was it possible to advance in Scientology if you had no money, he asked?
There were several solutions, said Valli. “You can have different services. You can have free auditing. You can see the introductory films. You can attend conferences. And volunteers can help people.”
But what if you didn’t have enough money, Morice asked?
“If someone wants to advance they can do so,” Valli replied. Morice persisted: without money, he asked? If people wanted to advance in Scientology but did not have the means, they could always ask for help, said Valli.
“It is a question of willingness,” he said later. “If you have faith you will find a solution.”
Later, when Judge Château returned to the issue of helping people pay for Scientology courses, Valli mentioned the possibility of grants.
She asked him to elaborate. If someone paid for something in advance, he explained, they would only have to pay 70 percent of what it would otherwise have costed: so that amounted to a 30 percent discount, he said.
But was that not reversing the meaning of the word “grant”, asked the judge?
“It is just a reduction,” said the judge. “Does the Church pay that 30 percent to the person?”
“No,” said Valli.
“So it is just a reduction,” said the judge.
Morice turned to the case of his client, Aude-Claire Malton: she had not been able to fund her courses, he pointed out: Did you not propose to help her?
“She never spoke of this. She never said to me that she had financial worries,” said Valli.
But you took her to the SOFINCO bank for a loan, Morice reminded him.
“What I remember is that Mme Malton wanted to plan a course and she asked me if I knew a bank and I answered that there was SOFINCO,” he replied.
Morice persisted: she told you she did not have the money that night when you took her home to write the cheques, he said.
He read out an extract from Malton’s testimony: “He proposed to accompany me to my home because if not, I would lose the chance of the special price.”
No, said Valli: that was not how he recalled it.
'A lot of joy'
Morice asked about refunds. Why was there not an automatic refund, he asked? There was, said Valli.
Then why did one have to sign a document promising no legal action? Valli said he did not know: that had never been part of his work at the centre.
After Morice, Nicolas Baïetto, one of the two lawyers representing the prosecution, took his turn.
There had been speculation ahead of the trial as to what line the prosecution would take, given that a September 2006 report from their office had said there was no case to answer. (The investigating magistrate reached a different conclusion, which is why the case came to trial.)
Ahead of the trial, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office told reporters that their representatives in court would not be bound by that previous report: they would be free to act as they saw fit
In court, Baïetto quickly confirmed this.
Challenging Valli’s presentation of himself as someone who was simply helping people choose the right course, he read out an extract from one of Scientology’s internal policies letters. It dealt with how to deal with new clients:
You must be willing at all times to control each body coming into your office from the time you bring them from Reception, or if they are brought into the office by someone, right from that point until the final stages of signing the cheque, until they walk out of the door… People are crying out to be controlled.1
Valli objected: this policy letter had not been written by the movement’s founder L. Ron Hubbard. But Hubbard endorsed it, said Baïetto.
It had not been written by Hubbard, Valli insisted. “It is not a valid document.”
Finally, Maisonneuve, for the defence, asked Valli about all the people he had helped in Scientology and what it had given him, personally.
“A lot of joy, a lot of well-being,” said Valli – as it had for many others. This case was the first time he had had a complaint, he added.
A final witness for the day, called for Valli's defence, was a fellow Scientologist who had done the Purification Rundown with Aude-Claire Malton.
Malton had not suffered any ill effects and had been quite happy throughout, he said – and speaking for himself, he had always been satisfied with M. Valli’s work as an adviser.
“He never forced me to do anything,” he added.
1 “Registration”, Hubbard Communications Policy Letter, May 3, 1961. This policy letter, although written by South African Scientologist Sue Van Niekerk, carries an endorsement from Hubbard.