Monday, 13 July 2009

12 The Celebrity Centre President II

Under hostile questioning from the plaintiffs' lawyers and the prosecution, the former president of the Celebrity Centre became increasingly emotional.

Judge Château gave Maître Olivier Morice, the lawyer for the plaintiffs Aude-Claire Malton and Nelly Reziga, his chance to put questions.

How had Aude-Claire Malton come to be at the Celebrity Centre, he asked? Malton had already testified that she had been recruited after having filled in a personality test.

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart. Perhaps through friends, she added.

“You said she had never done a personality test,” said Morice, referring to statements she had made to the investigators.

“When I was asked the first time, I may have said some stupid things, it is possible,” said Jacquart.

“Not the first time,” said Morice.

“The first time you refused to answer, because you considered that you didn’t have to answer an investigating magistrate until you had been confronted with the person who accused you.

“So you don’t know,” he concluded, referring to his initial question.

“I can’t be sure now,” said Jacquart. “It was more than 10 years ago now. I was president of the association. I didn’t handle reception – I couldn’t know.”

Morice asked her again, pointing out that fellow defendant Jean-François Valli had said that Malton had taken the test, but again Jacquart said she did not know, that this had not been part of her duties.

Morice asked her about her dealings with Aude-Claire Malton.

Jacquart acknowledged having met her “once or twice”, including the time they had discussed the job at the Centre, but she did not recall a letter Morice mentioned in which she had written to her offering her the job.

Morice turned to issue of refunds: were there many such requests made at the centre, he asked?

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart. “I don’t think so.” Hundreds of people passed through the centre every week, she added: if there had been a lot of such requests, she would have noticed.

But a Mme Noukrati, who had served as treasurer at the Celebrity Centre at the time in question, had told investigators she recalled several people requesting refunds during that period, some of which were granted.

“That is what she said,” said Jacquart. “I have nothing to say. I don’t remember a lot of requests.” And in any case, if anyone had requested a refund they would have received it, “if that is what you are trying to get me to say...”

But Mme Noukrati had suggested that you, Alain Rosenberg and other members of the board handled these refunds and that they had to go to the United States for approval, said Morice.

No, said Jacquart. None of that was true.

But she had testified on oath, said Morice.

Tant pis pour pour elle,” said Jacquart: too bad for her.

Morice persisted, suggesting that Rosenberg, as a member of the board, was privy to everything that went on.

“I have already told you that he was not on the board of administration…” said Jacquart. “All our accounts are verifiable, so if money had gone abroad that would have been seen,” she added.

'Scientology is demonised...'

Now she was getting upset. “It’s insane,” she said. “A person who wants a refund says so to the chaplain and they are refunded,” she insisted. “How would that concern the United States?”

But Aude-Claire Malton had requested a refund hadn’t she, said Morice? You sent her the photocopy of her refund cheque, but she had to fill in a form before she could get the cheque itself, renouncing any court action. Morice found that rather surprising.

“It is not a bit unusual,” said Jacquart – and she had not written that letter, she added.

“But you sent it,” said Morice.

Jacquart was becoming increasingly rattled. “If someone leaves the Church of Scientology, they absolutely have the right to,” she said. She could hardly force them to progress in Scientology if they did not want to.

“The Church of Scientology is an organisation that is very badly accepted in France, which is one of the few countries where Scientology is demonised. So I feel that it is perfectly correct that we should protect ourselves in this way,” she said, referring to the no-litigation clause.

Now she was beginning to raise her voice.

There were 45,000 Scientologists in France, she said, “and I find myself in court because two people find that Scientology is responsible for all the bad things that have happened to them despite the time we took with them, a lot of time –”

“— but most of all a lot of money,” said Morice.

“— please don’t shout into the microphone,” said Judge Château.

By now however, Jacquart was beside herself. It was not about the money, she said, whatever some people would like you to believe.

“I am a Scientologist because I won’t stand for the fact that drugs are still coming into our schools! We have a campaign of support and prevention and I am proud to support this campaign,” she said, still shouting.

“Do you want to know how much my husband and I have spent on Scientology?”

“I put the questions,” said Morice. And he brought her back to the question of refunds.

“A person knows that she can be refunded,” said Jacquart. “That is why I don’t understand why she [Malton] did not take the refund.”

Morice did not look convinced.

Could she explain why, several years after Aude-Claire Malton had left Scientology and as the investigation into the two Scientology organisations was in full swing, she had suddenly received 4,000 euros in her account, without a word of explanation?

“I can’t answer – I don’t know what it was,” said Jacquart.

“You were president of the Celebrity Centre, you are in court, you know about this,” said Morice.

You are in court, he continued – and you are facing charges. “You didn’t try and find out if the Celebrity Centre had refunded Mme Malton and when?”

By this time her lawyer, Yann Streiff, was intervening, protesting that she had already answered the question.

“I was not president at that time (2004),” said Jacquart. “I don’t know.”

So Morice asked her about the electrometer, or e-meter, the device used in Scientology therapy sessions. He picked up on Jacquart’s earlier remark to the judge that although she owned one, she had never used it.

Jacquart explained that this was simply because she had never decided to become an auditor: someone who conducted the movement’s auditing therapy, rather than being its recipient.

“When someone doesn’t have enough money, would it not be better to pay for the courses they need rather than buy an e-meter?” asked Morice.

“I don’t understand your question,” said Jacquart.

Morice’s point was that the e-meter was not indispensable to progressing in Scientology, to which Jacquart agreed.

“So if someone has limited resources, why try to sell them an e-meter?” asked Morice.

“Because they have decided to be an auditor, as Mme Malton had decided,” said Jacquart.

'I am not a pharmacist'

Now Maître Olivier Saumon, for the other plaintiffs, the Order of Pharmacists, took his turn.

He asked her if she had done the Purification Rundown. Yes, said Jacquart, about 20 years ago – and it had gone very well. She had followed the instructions in the book on the vitamins doses to the letter.

She had gone to a doctor – her own doctor – but she could not remember who had supplied her with the vitamins for the programme.

“And how did it feel?” asked Saumon.

“Exactly as is written in the book: a great relief,” she replied. “I don’t really want to talk about it, but I felt very good – and if I had felt bad, I would have stopped.”

When Saumon questioned her closely on what her role had been as president, insofar as the Purification Rundown had been concerned, Jacquart insisted on the fact that this was a religious ceremony.

But had she checked whether it was legal, asked Saumon?

“I didn’t see the need,” said Jacquart. “If the writings did not conform [to the law] then it seems to me that they would have been forbidden a long time ago,” she said.

But it had started not in France, but in the United States, Saumon pointed out.

Saumon referred back to the earlier testimony of Stéphane Lange, of France’s health products watchdog, the AFSSAPS. Asked about the cocktail of vitamins in high doses used during the Rundown, he had described the process as quackery.

Saumon was aware that the defence had produced some experts who had vouched for the programme – he just wondered if they had ever read a book on Scientology.

“I am not a pharmacist,” Jacquart protested. “I am not a doctor, and you are asking me to give a view on whether the doses were dangerous.”

“I am asking if you checked its legality,” said Saumon.

“Absolutely not,” said Jacquart.

And what did she know about G&G, the company that sold the vitamins, he asked?

“I have vaguely heard of it,” she said. She had come across a leaflet from the company one day at work, she added – “and that is all. I put it in the bin.”

Nicolas Baïetto, for the prosecution, took his turn.

Mme Noukrati, the former treasurer at the Celebrity Centre, had told investigators that major decisions concerning finances had to be referred to the United States, said Baïetto.

“Absolutely not,” said Jacquart. “Each church has its own independence.”

“So there would not be negative points if there were too many requests for refunds?” the prosecutor asked. No, said Jacquart.

Baïetto consulted the complex chart that set out the different posts inside the Celebrity Centre. There was a Public Contact Division with a Mailing Contact Unit, he noted.

All this was evocative of a marketing operation, said Baïetto.

“I understand, absolutely,” said Jacquart. “We want people to share what we have gained in Scientology.”

Baïetto went back to the chart, noting a Communications Department and a reference to potential buyers (“unité pour des acheteurs potentials”). Jacquart said something about poor translations.1

There was also something called a Celebrity Correction Unit, Baïetto noted.2 He asked her to explain.

Jacquart explained how celebrities, who had more influence than other people, could lead by example and thus help in campaigns against drink and drugs. That is why they had a unit dedicated to celebrities.

'I don’t know… I don’t know'

Now Baïetto asked about the client transfer accounts. Large sums of money had passed through these accounts between the Celebrity Centre and the SEL bookshop.

It required explanation because the organisations – both of which were on trial for organised fraud – had insisted they were entirely separate and independent of each other.

Jacquart explained that sometimes, a person who had made donations to the Celebrity Centre wanted to buy books at the SEL bookshop.

These accounts had been set up to allow these people to take advantage of this facility, transferring some assets from the Celebrity Centre to the bookshop.

Baïetto was not convinced. “I wonder if there isn’t more of a link between the ASES [Celebrity Centre] and SEL than you are admitting.”

It seemed to him that these accounts served simply to mask the for-profit activities of the Celebrity Centre, which had been set up as a non-profit association.

No, said Jacquart. Everything was accounted for. “Everything is separate,” she said, referring to the non-profit and for-profit activities.

But the transfers showed precisely the opposite, said Baïetto: that there had not been a separation of activities, that this separation was artificial.

He returned to what Mme Noukrati, the former treasurer had told investigators. According to her, some members of staff had been earning a good living, including the president.

No said Jacquart. Staff members were not paid a wage as such, but were rewarded for their work proselytising for the Church.

But who got what, asked Baïetto?

Staff members at the centre got their Scientology services free, said Jacquart. And if a parishioner wanted to spend time proselytising – bringing in members – they would be rewarded for their efforts by a percentage of the donations.

But how was this calculated, Baïetto asked?

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart.

Baïetto looked incredulous. How could that be, when the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, had organised everything very clearly, he asked?3

Baïetto turned to the false receipts that the businessman Pierre Auffret had asked Jean-François Valli to prepare to cover the fact that he had used his company’s money to pay for his training.

It was only several years later, in 2002 that Valli had been sacked by the Celebrity Centre. If Valli had admitted his mistake, why did it take so long for him to be disciplined, asked Baïetto?

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart. “Nobody told me about it. I wasn’t informed about this.”

Baïetto persisted, and Jacquart’s lawyer, Yann Streiff, intervened to contradict him: the receipts had in fact only been changed much later.4

And Jacquart added: “We didn’t know that M. Auffret was using the money of his business.”

Baïetto turned to comments Jacquart had made to investigators concerning how the personality test helped weed out weak people they could not help.

”If the test reading reveals a graph below a certain level, you do not accept that person because that person would be under the influence of another person,” she had said.

“If a person can’t take a decision by themselves, you have to be realistic. If they are on drugs…,” Jacquart replied.

You speak about dependence on other people, said Baïetto.

Yes, said Jacquart. That happened a lot because of the drugs problem. But that was not the problem. “Scientology requires that you have a minimum interest in studying.”

'I don’t handle that'

When Baïetto started asking her more technical questions about the rebilling of cheques between the bookshop and the Celebrity Centre, Jacquart made it clear that she could not answer – that this was beyond her competence.

This struck Baïetto as strange, given that the staff members appointed as treasurers were scarcely better qualified (one was trained as a shorthand typist). So who was qualified to deal with these matters, he asked?

“We have an accountant who goes through everything,” said Jacquart.

And he had never raised any issues with you, asked Baïetto?

“No,” said Jacquart. “If there had been a problem, he would have said a long time ago.”

Replying to a series of questions from the assistant judges, she denied that staff ever tried to find out about newcomers’ incomes: that would be completely inappropriate, she said.

She was asked too, about the distribution of the personality tests: who decided where that was done?

“I don’t handle that,” said Jacquart.

“You were the president and you didn’t take care of that?” asked one of the judges. No, said Jacquart.

It was put to her that, as the then president of the Celebrity Centre at the time personality tests were handed out to students outside their high school, that incident was ultimately her responsibility.

She accepted that – but aat the time that had happened, she added: “I had never heard about it. I don’t take care of that.”

Three people handing out leaflets on the street, said one judge? There were no recommendations or guidelines, asked another?

The division that took care of that was Division Six (Public Contact), said Jacquart, “and I didn’t take care of that at all.”

She was asked too about the plaintiffs’ complaints that they had come under tremendous pressure to pay up before Thursday 2:00 pm.

Why was this deadline so important and what happened at this weekly staff meeting, she was asked?

“The staff members simply meet to share the good news,” said Jacquart. “We take stock of what we have done.”

Wrapping up what had been a marathon examination lasting several hours, her lawyer Yann Streiff picked up on one of Judge Château’s earlier questions.

The judge had recalled Mme Malton’s claim that a woman named “Sabine” had evaluated her personality test for her. Jacquart had denied that it was her – and Malton had not identified her in court.

Streiff read out Malton’s description of the woman who had handled her test: it did not correspond to Jacquart’s appearance, either then or now, he concluded.

Next in the series: 13 The E-Meter Experts
1   In fact, the translation seems perfectly reasonable: “Unité pour des acheteurs potentials” corresponds to a section on Scientology's organisational chart that has, one of its aims getting “effective promotional items printed and into the hands of potential buyers”. (In Scientology, this is known as a Valuable Final Product (VFP), and this was the aim of the Dissemination Division Two; Orientation Department Four (Promotion and Marketing).
2   For the record, this is Qualifications Division Five, Department 15: Corrections.
3   Hubbard was indeed very clear on the question of commission for what in Scientology are known as Field Staff members.
[T]he official Scn organization to which the Field Staff Member is attached will pay the Field Staff Member a percentage of all training and processing fees received by that organization through its Field Staff Members,” he wrote in one policy letter. The commission would commonly vary between 10 percent for total cash and six percent for a combination of credit and cash received. But it could also run to as high as 15 percent if an FSM sold someone auditor training. (This is from Hubbard's Modern Management Technology Defined, 1976, a compendium of Hubbard's policy letters on a a range of subjects.)
Already the court had heard from one of the Scientology salesmen on trial that he had received between five and 15 percent commission on the goods and services he sold (see Defendant #1: the Facilitator).

4 Valli’s account in the first week of the trial, when called back to answer questions about this affair, suggests that Auffret had asked him – and he had agreed – to change the receipts in 1999. (See Part 6 of the trial coverage: The Company Director”.) But the defence was presumably arguing that this sleight-of-hand only came to light years later, during the subsequent police investigation of Auffret.

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