The court had been due to hear from Pierre Auffret, a businessman who had spent more than a million francs of his company’s money on Scientology training.
In the end, however, he wrote to inform the court that he would not be able to attend. Judge Château set out the details of his story.
Auffret’s status was very particular: he was a témoin assisté; an assisted witness. In French law, this is someone who was investigated with a view to possible prosecution, but against whom charges were not actually laid.
Auffret had been questioned as part of an investigation launched in October 1999 into the misappropriation of company assets, following an anonymous tip-off to police.
A couple of months later, in December, Auffret’s brother Yves had filed a complaint against Scientology. He accused the movement of extortion against Pierre Auffret, who had himself refused to act against the movement.*
Yves Auffret said that from 1996, his brother had paid out massive amounts of money to Scientology, jeopardising not only his family’s finances but those of the company he ran.
The company’s accountant, who had resigned once he found out what was happening, said that when he left, the company’s was short 1,278,314 francs (194,878 euros).
Investigators found that money from Parangon, the engineering company he ran in Finistere, Brittany, northwest France, had indeed been improperly used to pay for Scientology training.
Questioned by investigators, Pierre Auffret said he had been a Scientologist since 1996, after having taken a personality test that showed he needed training in communication skills.
He had started by spending his own money on Scientology training, buying hundreds of hours of training in advance from Jean-François Valli, one of the defendants.
By 1999 however, he had spent large sums of the company’s money on Scientology training and on various materials from Scientology’s bookshop. He had also spent substantial amounts of money travelling from Brittany to the Celebrity Centre in Paris for his training.
Auffret acknowledged that he had improperly mixed his personal spending with spending for the company.
But he was never formally charged over his abuse of the company finances: neither his brother nor his wife wanted to file a complaint against him, as they believed that Scientology had manipulated him.
And much of the company’s money was recovered. Auffret paid back 475,344 francs (72,466 euros) to Parangorn; Scientology refunded 489,744 francs (74,661 euros).
Judge Château called Valli back to the stand.
In earlier testimony, Valli had already mentioned that he had been disciplined by the movement for having failed to respect Scientology’s own financial rules regarding Auffret.
Scientology had a separate organisation the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE) that handled businesses.
Why, asked the judge, had he accepted cheques from Auffret’s business when he knew that this was something WISE would normally handle?
“The first thing is that M. Auffret most of the time he made his payment by debit card and I never looked closely, I did not see that it was a professional debit card and each time I signed him up I made out a receipt in his name personally,” said Valli.
It was only in 1999 that Auffret contacted him to say that, after having consulted with his board, he wanted the receipts made out to his business account, he added.
“I asked him if that was right and he said yes, so I redid the receipts.”
But Auffret appeared to have been very clear that he was spending his company’s money, said the judge.
She pointed to the massive sums of money paid out for courses in advance; and the vast quantities of books and other Scientology materials he had bought.
“I thought it was for him personally”
“No,” said Valli. “For me it was clear it was personal.” Auffret had spoken about the professional as well as the personal benefits the training was bringing him. But he said: “I thought it was for him personally.”
Auffret’s recollection was that Valli had handled his personality test, said Judge Château. He had also talked in terms of him being the client and Valli the salesman.
No, said Valli. He was not trained to interpret the tests, he said. And he described the training programme he had worked out with Auffret as a “spiritual plan”.
For the prosecution; Nicolas Baïetto asked him about the problems he had with Scientology over this affair.
Valli explained that by rewriting the receipts for Auffret as business expenses he had failed to respect Scientology’s own rules. For this he had been sacked from his job at the Celebrity Centre, and as a consequence had also resigned from his occasional work at the bookshop.
But Baïetto was also troubled by what he saw as the divergence between Auffret’s account of his experience and Valli’s.
“He did not talk about a spiritual process. He never spoke of spirituality. There is a gulf between what you say it [his training] gave him and what he says.”
And how could he suddenly discover there was a problem in 1999, three years after the payments started, the prosecutor asked?
Valli explained that the first time he had any notion something was wrong was when Auffret had contacted him and asked him to change the receipts.
For the defence, François Jacquot established that the forms Auffret had signed for his training made clear mention that these were for religious service. “So he knew perfectly well.”
Under further questioning from the defence, Valli explained that he only really realised something was not right when he learned that an investigating magistrate wanted to talk to him concerning a possible case of misappropriation of company assets.
Judge Château also recalled another defendant, Didier Michaux, to the stand.
Michaux, who had sold Auffret his books, had told investigators that he had not realised that Auffret was spending his company’s money rather than his own.
But 305,000 francs was a lot of money to spend on books, said the judge. How much time would he have to read them? Did it happen a lot that people bought so many, she asked?
Not often, said Michaux: but for certain Scientologists it was important to build a complete library.
“I am before everything a Scientologist, though it is true that I am also a salesman,” said Michaux. Once the circumstances of the purchases became clear, he had been happy to refund the money.
In the circumstances, he would not have wanted to keep it, he added.
---* The charges eventually retained against Scientology’s Celebrity Centre and some of its employees were for fraud.
This completes coverage of the first week of the trial.