Saturday, 26 September 2009

25 Confrontations

As the third week of the trial drew to a close the main plaintiff, Aude-Claire Malton, fended off a final challenge from the defence lawyers.

As normally happens towards the end of a trial in France, the judge invited some of the key players, plaintiffs and defendants, to return to the stand to testify again in the light of what the court had learned so far.

In the hours that followed, the main plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton and the defendant Jean-François Valli offered radically different accounts of how he had come to sell her her courses.

And Scientology’s peculiar account of what “hard sell” meant came up again: this time from the salesman Jean-François Valli, one of the defendants.

And defendant Alain Rosenberg abandoned a scientific justification of Scientology procedures in favour of an entirely religious account.

Aude-Claire Malton, one of only two remaining plaintiffs in the case, was the first to return to the stand. Her earlier, emotional testimony had been widely reported in the press during the first week of the beginning of the trial.

In 1998, she had spent 140,000 francs (21,000 euros) on Scientology goods and services in barely four months, emptying her bank account and getting herself heavily into debt in the process.

It was her case that she had been pressured into taking courses and spending money she did not have and that she had never received the promised benefits.

Malton had at times broken down in tears during her initial testimony and at that time the defence lawyers had been wary of pressing her too hard.

Now however, one of them tried a harder line.

“Have you ever been convicted under law?” asked Maître Louis Pamponet, the lawyer defending the SEL, Scientology’s network of bookshops in France, which was one of the two organisation facing fraud charges.

When Malton said she had not been convicted of anything, Pamponet reminded her of a 2002 court judgment.

This judgment, it seemed, had ordered her to return materials she had purchased from the SEL bookshop in Paris, ruling that they no longer belonged to her because she had been refunded the money she had paid out for them.

Malton’s lawyer, Maître Olivier Morice protested angrily.

“This completely out of order,” he said. The judgment in question had subsequently been struck out. Mme Malton was the victim here, he added.

Judge Sophie-Hélène Château intervened: if Pamponet was talking here about a judgment that had been declared null, then he had gone too far.

There had been mention earlier in the trial of Malton having received a payment in her account for 4,700 euros, years after she had launched her action against Scientology.

There had been no formal explanation or notification of the refund, but it was after that sum had been deposited in her account that the action to recover the goods she had bought from Scientology had begun.

As Judge Château and Morice questioned her on specific points of her testimony, Malton expanded on her story.

She described the pressure she had come under to buy courses in advance: she had not wanted to do so, having never even taken out a loan before.

Under pressure from the defendant Jean-François Valli, one of Scientology’s salesmen, she had borrowed to pay for courses – but that had been completely out of character, she said.

“I have always put money aside and I have never spent so much money in so little time,” she said. “Going in, I didn’t realise I would have to pay so much money in advance. I am not someone who spends a lot of money.”

“I just wanted… them to leave me in peace”

Morice asked her to go over the night of July 14, when Valli had accompanied her home to get her to write a cheque for the next course.

“That evening, I went without my banking card or cheque to do my courses, so I didn’t have anything to pay for other courses. But after my course they asked me to see Jean-François Valli. I didn’t think he would accompany me to my apartment. He said he absolutely had to do it tonight.”

And how long had it taken her to get over her experience with Scientology, Morice asked?

“I needed practically nine years to get over this,” said Malton. It had only been in the last two years that she had felt better, that she had been able to rebuild her life, she added. (Aude-Claire Malton got involved with Scientology in May of 1998 and quit before the end of the same year.)

And overall had it been a negative experience, asked Morice?

“Absolutely,” said Malton.

Judge Château intervened. Valli had said that it was Malton who had asked him to accompany her back to the apartment the evening she signed the cheques.

“He said it was your idea,” said the judge. “You had bought a lot of material and you had proposed to pay for them.”

“No,” said Malton. “I left [the apartment] without a way of paying, there was no question of buying anything, when they convinced me to buy a package – and I absolutely had to pay the same evening.

“In the package, there were a certain number of books. They offered to help me take them back and to pay for them.”

Malton said the only thing she had really asked for was the initial Communication Course, after which she had been regularly pressured to buy more. After two hours of courses she would be called into the sales office for the next pitch. A salesman would tell her he had something to propose her, she said.

“I just wanted to go home and for them to leave me in peace,” she added. “But they would keep explaining, saying the course was very important and it would really help me.

“After several hours in a room – and they want you to stay while they explain – you only want to say ‘Okay,’ so you can go.”

The idea of payment in advance had not been hers, she said. “When I buy, I buy with the money I have. My aim was to finish the course I had paid for…

“I would have wanted to do a course before buying others, but when they forced me to stay and listen for hours I would say, ‘Okay, I’ll pay and I’m going.’”

Judge Château put it to Malton again that according to Valli, it was she who had asked him about getting a loan and it was she who had asked him to accompany her to SOFINCO.

“No,” said Malton. She had had no intention of taking out more loans, she insisted. “I had already taken one out for the last package: they proposed me another.”

Her position had been to avoid ever getting into debt, she said: “But after a lot of harassment…

“You are in a centre surrounding by Scientologists. Everybody is happy, it is fantastic and they propose a package… so to end all this harassment, I said ‘yes’.”

Judge Château asked about her experience of the Purification Rundown, which one of Scientology’s witnesses.

Dr. David Root had said many people fit it into their spare time while still working. Malton had taken a holiday to find the time to do it.

Malton described spending four hours a day in the cramped sauna: there had been eight of them doing the programme at the same time taking doses of vitamins. She recalled how she came out in an itchy rash during the process.

“They bullied me”

The judge asked her about the personality test, the importance of which several of the defendants had minimised. Eric Roux, for the Celebrity Centre, had said it accounted for only around 10 percent of recruits.

“At the beginning, the personality test was important…” said Malton: “It was interpreted so that I was demoralised,” she added, referring to the results. “Programming the [first] course helped raise my morale.”

The result of the second personality test that she had taken, just after she had completed the Purification Rundown, had also been demoralising, she said – especially since she thought she had made progress on the Rundown.

“You are in this atmosphere [where] everything is fine, [a] positive atmosphere – you can’t help feeling good at the end of the Purification Rundown.”

Tired as she had felt at the end of the Rundown, she had been obliged to take the personality test again – and to wait for the results, she said: “And the progress was minimal compared to what I thought I would have.”

“Did that convince you to buy more?” asked Judge Château.

“I said to myself, ‘Perhaps with another course I will have better results,” said Malton.

Malton confirmed the Scientologists’ account of the doses of vitamins on the Rundown having been gradually increased each day. And when she had starting getting the stomach problems they had spread out her vitamin doses over more days, she said.

Some of the defendants had said that people took Scientology founder L.Ron Hubbard’s book on the Rundown, Clear Body, Clear Mind, to their doctor so he would know what was involved. Malton said she had not done so.

Valli’s lawyer, Maître Virginie Benmayor, picked up the questioning. Describing the day she and Valli had gone back to her apartment to get her chequebook, Malton had just spoken of “harassment”, Benmayor noted.

“‘He forced me,’” she said. “That is new.”

She had never used these terms before about the courses she had taken, said Benmayor – and they contradicted her original testimony.

“You said, ‘If I took it, it was because I felt good.’ Can you explain why your story had changed?”

“I have more distance than in 1999,” said Malton.

“You weren’t coached?” asked Benmayor.

No, said Malton. She had given her original statements six months after the events in question.

So now you are saying you were forced, asked Benmayor?

Yes, said Malton. “They bullied me.”

But in her original statement, said Benmayor, she had said that she took out the loan because she had wanted to advance in Scientology. “I don’t understand why you say you were forced now.”

Olivier Morice intervened for his client, offering another passage from Malton’s original statement.

In it, Malton had said that she had told Valli that she couldn’t afford the next course. Valli had urged her to take the course, saying she was spending money on herself – and that he would not have spent the last two hours explaining it to her if he was not worth it.

But another defence lawyer wanted to know what Malton meant by harassment.

It had not been any single thing that Valli had said or done, said Malton. “It was a cascade of words,” she said. “It was he who led the conversation. So for me it was harassment.”

“But you are intelligent,” said the defence lawyer. “You could have said no.”

“That is what I did,” said Malton. “But he insisted: and I had to stay longer.”

Another defence lawyer pointed out that she had now received a full refund: so what material prejudice had she suffered, he wanted to know.

“I feel that I have been abused,” said Malton.

Judge Château picked up the questioning again, asking if it had been her idea to ask for a job at the centre. No, said Malton, they had proposed it to her.

“There are no courses in ‘hard sell’”

Now Valli was called back to the stand to give his side of the story once more.

Referring to the night he had accompanied Malton back to her apartment to get the cheques, Judge Château put it to him that it had been he who had insisted on getting payment, not Malton, as he had claimed.

“I am shocked,” said Valli. Malton had said he had harassed, that she had been tired, but she had been on holiday at the time in question, he said. “She was not at all tired.”

For Valli, Aude-Claire Malton was someone who knew her own mind. “If she didn’t want to do something, she didn’t. She always did things her way.

“She said she was happy and that she wanted to progress,” he added. “She said she wanted to do the Communications Course, but she did not just do that one.”

But why had she paid 140,000 francs in the space of a few months, taking out loans to pay for courses in advance, asked the judge?

“Mme Malton was in a hurry,” said Valli. “She wanted to advance more quickly.” She had taken holidays so she could devote herself to Scientology training.

“She was very motivated. We had excellent relations,” Valli added – just as he had with the judge.

“I haven’t yet paid you 140,000 francs,” said the judge, raising one of the few laughs of the day.

And what about hard sell? asked the judge, using the English term.

“There are no courses in hard sell,” said Valli. “Hard sell is when a person has a question, you answered it. It consists of understanding what a person wants and how best to help him. It is to find the best service that will correspond to what they want.”

Judge Château was not convinced. “I have some notions of English,” she said – and that was not the translation.

“It is jargon in Scientology,” said Valli, referring to the Scientology definition.[1] “It is the act of finding the best service that best corresponds to the person.”

He had worked for 11 years showing people how to reach the state of Clear, said Valli, referring to a much-prized state in Scientology. “You can’t understand what that means to people.”

And how did he interpret what Malton had said about “a cascade of words,” asked the judge?

“I am extremely shocked,” said Valli. Referring back to Malton’s testimony at the beginning of the trial, when she had not expressed herself in such strong terms, he added: “I can only wonder what could have happened in 15 days.”

Malton’s lawyer, Olivier Morice, took over. He referred back to something Malton had said in one of her statements. In Valli’s office and under pressure to buy more courses she had insisted that she had no more money to pay for courses – and that Valli had said there were always more courses to take.

Valli had told her that exceptionally, there was a special price for the next package, said Morice, referring to Malton’s statement. “He also said that he would not have spent two hours explaining this to her if he did not think he was worth it,” he added.

By now, Valli had become more animated.

“I am extremely shocked,” Valli said again. He had read Malton’s first deposition and had never seen anything in it that was a reproach against him.

He had proposed that she do auditing, he said. “She asked me questions, I gave her answers,” he said.

Personality test “part of my religion”

Alain Rosenberg, former executive director of the Celebrity Centre, was recalled to the stand.

He made it clear that he had not been happy with the evidence offered by former Scientologist Roger Gonnet, who had testified against the defendants.

Gonnet had managed his centre in Lyon in the 1980s, said Rosenberg – there was no comparison with the much larger Paris operation running in the late 1990s.

Judge Château asked him about the weekly figures telexed to head office in the United States. Rosenberg said he did not handle that side of things, but the judge did not seem convinced.

Morice asked him about the confusion of finances between the Celebrity Centre and SEL, the network of bookshops and the other Scientology organisation charged with fraud.

“I have nothing to do with SEL,” said Rosenberg.

Another of the three judges on the bench wanted to know what Rosenberg had meant when he had said that the reference in the personality test to its scientific background had no real value.

“I wanted to say that the fact that we put this does not have this… this label is not essential for us. That is what I wanted to say,” said Rosenberg.

“So these personality tests do not have a scientific basis,” said the judge.

No, said Rosenberg. “The tests are part of my religion. It is part of our religious expression. It is an expression of a belief, of a religious belief.”

The personality test, the Purification Rundown; the e-meter; these were all part of Scientology’s religious practice, said Rosenberg.

And referring to his Jewish origins, Rosenberg said he did not think Judaism had shown the scientific nature of circumcision – but that had not prevented discrimination against the Jews, he added, becoming emotion now.

The judge persisted: why the reference to the test’s scientific basis not been removed?

“I don’t know,” said Rosenberg. Millions of copies of the test had been printed with this scientific reference on it. “I did not ask for it to be put on my personality test.”

After Eric Roux, for the Celebrity Centre, had answered more questions about Scientology’s organisational chart, the third week of hearings wound up.

The fourth final week of the trial would be taken up with the lawyers’ pleadings.
[1] Once again: “Hard Sell means insistence that people buy. It means caring about the person and not being reasonable about stops or barriers but caring enough to get him through the stops or barriers to get the service that's going to rehabilitate him.” HCO policy letter Sept. 26, 1979.
Note also the official Scientology definition of hard sell: 1. means insistence people buy. (HCO PL 4 Mar 65 II) 2. caring about the person, not being reasonable with stops and barriers and getting him fully paid up and taking the service (LRH ED 159R-1 INT) Modern Management Technology Defined.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

24 The Bookshop

Scientology’s network of bookshops in France, SEL, is entirely independent of the Paris Celebrity Centre, a representative insisted – a key plank of their joint defence against fraud charges.

When Aurore Nadler stood up to testify she knew she had her work cut out for her.

Nadler was the representative for Scientologie espace librairie (SEL), the movement’s network of bookshops in France, which was charged with fraud.

SEL’s Paris branch, which according to the indictment made 80 percent of their turnover, was at the centre of the fraud allegations.

In his indictment, investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin had concluded that the bookshop and the Celebrity Centre were not the distinct entities they claimed to be – a crucial part of the indictment against them both for organised fraud.

And he had his own ideas about who really ran the business.

Nadler’s difficulty was that although she was in court representing the network of bookshops, she was not its official manager.

That was Danish Scientologist Karen Hansen, who had refused to meet investigators or appear at the trial. From her base in Denmark, she had delegated all powers to Nadler, so it was she who had answered investigators’ questions.

She had told them that she rarely saw Hansen and had been unable to give a clear account of who handled SEL’s business mail, Hullin noted.

Hullin also noted that only Nadler and one of the defendants, Didier Michaux, a salesman at the bookshop, had access to SEL’s bank accounts.

His indictment had argued that Michaux was in fact the de facto manager of the bookshop by virtue of the duties he performed there, something Michaux had denied – and which he denied again during the trial.

Adding to Nadler’s problems was the fact that another of the defendants in the trial, Jean-François Valli had worked both for the bookshop and the Celebrity Centre. For Hullin, that further blurred the lines between the two organisations.

Judge Sophie-Hélène Château had also questioned a number of defendants on a period when the two organisations had shared banking facilities.

Nadler’s task then was to convince the court that the two Scientology organisations – the non-profit Celebrity Centre and the for-profit bookshops – were the distinct entities they claimed to be.

The investigating magistrate had suggested that the curious links between the two had effectively allowed the Celebrity Centre to use the money paid by followers to subsidise the activities of the Paris bookshop – and thus escape paying taxes on the sums involved.

After sketching out the history of the bookshops, Nadler denied suggestions from the prosecutors during the trial that SEL’s accounts were opaque, insisting on their total transparency.

“Every transaction is understandable and visible,” she told the court – including those with the Celebrity Centre.

There had been a period from 1998 to 1999 when the Celebrity Centre had been forbidden to use banking cards, preventing followers from doing courses, she said. So the centre had asked them to help out and they had agreed to give them access to their bank-card machine.

She had checked with an accountant beforehand, the arrangement had been a temporary one and every transaction had been recorded and properly attributed, she said.

Full price never applied

Judge Château had already questioned several witnesses to try to find some logic in the pricing system, which seemed to her to vary from client to client. The pricing of the e-meter, a device used in Scientology auditing, had come in for particular scrutiny.

Nadler, as other Scientologists had already done during the trial, attributed this to Scientology’s discount system.

“There is a full-price from which all the discounts are calculated,” she said, “and I have never heard of an e-meter being sold at full-price.”

These discounts could run up to between 10 and 40 percent and were accorded to members who bought annual or life membership for example, she said.

Judge Château intervened, pointing out that Scientology’s own expert witnesses who had testified to the e-meter’s technical accuracy had been asked what a reasonable sale price would be – and they had suggested far lower figures than those set by the movement.[1]

“Each e-meter is made by hand,” said Nadler. “Some parts are perhaps expensive.” And they also came from 20 different parts of the United States, so transport costs also had to be factored in. In addition to which, they had to be manufactured in special low-humidity conditions.

And why was it necessary to send them back to the United States for maintenance, asked the judge? Were there not technicians who could do it cheaper?

These maintenance checks were not compulsory, she said. But in any case it had to be done by the makers – and that kept the costs down, because they knew what they were doing, said Nadler.

And how much did it cost, asked the judge? About 200 dollars, said Nadler.

And why was it necessary to own two e-meters?

The e-meter was a key tool for auditing and an auditor could not allow a session to stop half-way, so there was always a back-up model in case of a malfunction – however rare an occurrence that might be, said Nadler.

So a lot of Scientologists chose to have two e-meters, while others made arrangements among themselves to share their models, she added.

Later, Judge Château asked how they could justify selling an e-meter for 4,700 euros.[2]

That was the full-price, said Nadler: and the full price was never applied. “The full price is a basis for discounts. You need a basic full price and then you have discounts of between 10 and 40 percent.”

The indictment had also suggested that the mark-up on the books sold in the SEL network was 10 times higher than comparable books in commercial publishing. How did she respond to such allegations that the books cost to much, asked the judge?

“I don’t know where that idea comes from,” said Nadler. The 69-franc cost of a copy of Dianetics for example (10.5 euros), compared favourably with a similar-sized book from a French publisher, which cost 129 francs (19.6 euros).

And why did the bookshop order such large numbers of books in advance, asked the judge? “One gets the impression that it is not good for business,” he added.

That was down to a policy set out by Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, said Nadler. They were not allowed to fall below a certain level of stocks – 500 copies of Dianetics, for example.

“That favours your suppliers more than you,” said the judge.

“No, no, no,” said Nadler.[3]

“We don’t do credit”

The indictment had also noted a period when the Crédit Lyonnais bank’s fraud prevention unit had in May 1999 reported problems with payments coming through SEL’s bank-card machines.

There had been a surge in the use of the bookshop’s machines and a number of payments had been disputed and cancelled by the supposed purchasers, who said they had been billed against their will. What had happened there, asked the judge?

“It wasn’t a lot,” said Nadler. Only four bills were involved, and this was the period when the bookshop had shared its facilities with the Celebrity Centre. But one of the bills had been for 10,000 francs (1,500 euros).

One follower had wanted to take a course, an over-zealous employee had sold it, but the sum was not there, which had alerted the anti-fraud unit.

“A strange coincidence,” said the judge.

And who was the salesman involved, asked the judge? Nadler did not know.

“There aren’t that many,” said Judge Château. Nadler had already said that the bookshop employed three staff members – including Valli and Michaux.

“I’m astonished there wasn’t an inquiry,” the judge added.

“I’m certain that we settled the problem, but I don’t remember the details,” said Nadler.

Judge Château asked how the commission system worked at the bookshop, and Nadler explained that if someone bought a book on the basis of advice from one of salesmen, then that salesman would receive five to 10 percent commission.

And what about the delivery-on-payment system, asked the judge? Why run a system under which, when you paid for something in instalments, you only received the goods once the final payment had been made?

“That is a commercial point,” said Nadler. “We don’t do credit because it is hard to manage. We can’t allow unpaid articles to be taken out.”

So if someone chose to pay for an e-meter in instalments, they might have to wait a year before they took delivery, said the judge.

That was normal, said Nadler: “In the same way people pay in advance for courses.”

Judge Château turned to the issue of the personality tests.

Earlier that day, Eric Roux, representing the Celebrity Centre, had played down their significance as a recruitment tool: but it had played a key role in drawing the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton into Scientology.

Château pointed out that Michaux, while he had also minimised the importance of the test, had also confirmed putting copies of it into books he sent out to customers – at their request, he had said.

Nadler did not think that Michaux had done this systematically. “It was a completely personal initiative.”

If Michaux had been employed by the bookshop, asked the judge, why had it been he who had sold the former plaintiff Eric Aubry his courses, which were the domain of the Celebrity Centre?[4]

“From what I heard, M. Aubry only wanted to deal with Michaux,” said Nadler.

Who runs the shop?

Michaux, she said, was no more than a bookshop employee, selling goods, cleaning the premises and managing the stocks, she said.

“Is he not a bit more than that?” asked the judge.

If he really had been the de facto manager (as the indictment had suggested) he would have managed the other Scientology bookshops around France, said Nadler. But he did not manage them: Hansen did.

And how did she manage this from Denmark, asked the judge?

“I am in contact with her regularly,” said Nadler. At one point, she said, the police had been in her office suggesting that Hansen did not even exist: so she had given them her address.

While Hansen did not handle the day-to-day orders of the bookshops, she was responsible for the overall management, taking care of major decisions, the annual accounts and signing contracts, said Nadler.

Asked by one of the other two judges why the French network of bookshops was managed by someone in Denmark, Nadler explained that this was because she knew Hubbard’s writings very well.

Had Michaux been at fault in his dealings with Aubry, asked Judge Château?

“I don’t know,” said Nadler. “I don’t think so. He sold M. Aubry what M. Aubry wanted to buy. M. Aubry wanted to buy the complete library.”

Judge Château opened the questioning to her two colleagues on the bench, one of whom asked about a passage in which Hubbard compared an e-meter to both a microscope and a lie detector.

This could only be a reference to the foreword to Electropsychometric Auditing: Operators Manual (1952), which had already been quoted during the trial.

Hubbard wrote:

[T]he data contained herein is equally applicable to any “lie detector” as used by police and in psychology laboratories. The measurement of thought with a meter is not new; the understanding and accuracy of measurement is new…

…The invention of the electropsychometer, like so many important things in this cynical and dull age on Earth, is not cited by our generation as very important. Yet in a future time historians may well spend pages and pictures upon it.

For if the truth be known, the electropsychometer utterly dwarfs the invention of the microscope, for Leeuwenhoek found the way only to find bacteria; the electropsychometer provides the way for Man to find his freedom and to rise, perhaps, to social and constructive levels of which Man has never dreamed, and to avoid perils in that route which Man, in going, would have found more deadly than any bacteria ever evolved or invented.

It was this last excerpt passage that one of Scientology’s own experts on the e-meter had dismissed as, “a far-fetched, ambitious and laughable stream of verbosity”.

“It is a very high-performance tool and in this way it is not false to say that it is a scientific instrument as well as a religious one,” said Nadler. “We do not have the right to sell an e-meter to someone who does not want to use it for religious purposes.”

Science and religion

The third judge picked up the questioning, reminding Nadler that some of Hubbard’s claims for the device had left two of their own experts smiling. They had expressed doubts about what they considered to be Hubbard’s unscientific use of terms such as mass and energy.

Nadler insisted Hubbard’s terminology was both very precise and scientific, describing Scientology’s belief that painful memories were what made life difficult for so may people.

“The terminology used comes from our own beliefs,” she added. “He doesn’t say that that is how scientists say things.”

“But there is a mix here of scientific and religious terms,” the judge objected.

“If you are talking about the e-meter… Scientologists have their jargon,” said Nadler. “We have created our own language: energy exists.”

“That means something precise in physics, so that can create confusion,” said the judge.

“I’m not an expert on the e-meter,” said Nadler: but nor was she shocked at Hubbard’s description of the device, she added.

Questioned further, Nadler explained that she had been a Scientologist since 1994 and in the 15 years since then had spent about 35,000 euros on her progress in the movement.

Maître Olivier Morice, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, took over the questioning. He got her to confirm that Didier Michaux had worked both for SEL, the for-profit network of bookshops, and for the non-profit association set up around the Celebrity Centre.

He asked about the word technology, which cropped up so often in Scientology’s literature: was this meant to have a scientific connotation?

“I have trouble understanding technology,” said Nadler.

As he done earlier in the trial, Morice referred to a passage he had quoted from Scientology’s Impact magazine.

In it, Mike Rinder, then commanding officer of the Office of Special Affairs International, had denounced what he called the suppressives – the enemies of Scientology and mankind.

“We won’t stop until those SPs have been shattered: because we do have the technology and the truth,” Rinder had said.[5]

Would Mme Nadler like to explain what this meant, asked Morice?

“No comment,” said Nadler. “I have no explanation to give Maître Morice.”

For the prosecution, Nicolas Baïetto pressed for more details of how Karen Anselm could manage SEL, the network of bookshops in France, without actually being there.

He also pointed out that Nadler had been unable to provide the investigating magistrate her telephone number.

Nadler repeated: “I see her rarely, but I am in regular contact with her.”

Danièle Gounord, a spokeswoman for the movement in France, seemed to think that Nadler ran the business when questioned by investigators, said Baïetto.

“She is mistaken,” said Nadler. “She is confused about SEL. Apparently she doesn’t know about SEL.”

Baïetto asked a series of fairly technical questions on the businesses’ bills as they concerned two of the defendants, the salesman Michaux and Valli.

Nadler provided her answers with increasing confidence and she seemed to have a firm grasp of the details and the documents concerned.

Baïetto did not seem satisfied however, and when he found the answers irrelevant tried to break in – but each time Nadler insisted on finishing what she had to say before letting him put the next question.

The client-transfer accounts

Then Baïetto raised the question of the client-transfer account, and suddenly Nadler appeared to be in difficulty.

In his indictment, the investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin had noted that a client-transfer account had been set up to allow clients to use transfer money from their Celebrity Centre account to one at the bookshop so they could buy materials there.

This was just the kind of blurring of the business lines Hullin and the prosecutors needed to undermine Scientology’s claim that the two organisations were entirely separate – a key element in their defence against fraud charges.

Nadler tried to explain. “People want to use their money, to use it for a service, to buy a book or something.”

For Baïetto, this transfer of money looked very much as if the Celebrity Centre was giving refunds – and that the bookshop was benefitting.

For Nadler, it an was entirely different situation if parishioners had given money to the Centre which they then spent at the bookshop.

“There are no bad intentions,” she said. “It is transparent.” But she was clearly rattled.

When Baïetto asked how this had worked in the case of the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton, she said she did not know, which the prosecutor seemed to have trouble believing: there were large sums of money involved here, he said.

Hullin’s indictment had noted that salesmen, such as Valli, who had worked for both the SEL and the Celebrity Centre, had been paid commission by the bookshop for bringing in clients – another blurring of the lines. It was Valli who had sold Malton her books and courses.[6]

Judge Château chose this moment to bring the discussion around to hard sell again: were sales staff not trained in this?

“Not at all,” said Nadler. They were trained in Hubbard’s writings. And like Eric Roux, the representative for the Celebrity Centre, she offered Hubbard’s definition of hard sell.

“Hard sell, for us, means to take care of the person,” she said, using the English phrase.

“That is the Scientology definition,” said the judge. “That is not the translation.”[7]

Nadler tried again. It meant she said, to “take the time necessary with a person to understand their needs and know what writings… will answer their questions.”

When Maître Louis Pamponet, SEL’s defence lawyer, took over, he got her to clarify that the full price of the e-meters, as set down in the official lists, were effectively notional figures, as people always qualified for some kind of discount.

“Different Scientologists have different rights to discounts, which can give the impression that the prices are arbitrary,” said Nadler.

Thus the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton had been sold one for 3,290 euros; and former plaintiff Eric Aubry had bought two e-meters, for 3,180 and 3,600 euros.

This was an important point for the defence: the indictment had argued that the high price of the e-meters, the figure of 4,870 euros was mentioned, was substantially higher than that of a similar device on the open market (762 euros).

But Pamponet pointed out that Nadler had been unable to find a single bill or receipt indicating that any client had paid full price on an e-meter.

“There is no full-price,” said Pamponet. “She could not find one, she spent last night looking for it.”

And was the salesman free to set the price, he asked?

“Absolutely not,” said Nadler.

He also asked her about the defendant Didier Michaux who, he said, had been betrayed during the trial as someone who was not completely honest. Was that her impression?

“Not at all,” said Nadler. “For me, M. Michaux is a good Scientologist. He has never done anything irregular. He is someone who is very appreciated.”

The prosecutor Baïetto had referred earlier to questions that the tax authorities had raised about the client-transfer accounts: so Pamponet took her back to this point.

“Did you have any problems regarding this from the tax authorities,” he asked?

“Absolutely not,” said Nadler.

And had the tax authorities offered any advice regarding these accounts?

“Absolutely not.”
[1] The indictment was a little confused on this point. It said the manufacturing price of an e-meter was at most 5,000 francs,or 762 euros. (One of Scientology's own expert witnesses put the figure even lower, at 500 euros.) The indictment cited a sale price of 4,847 euros, describing that as about 10 times higher -- when in fact it is more like six or seven times higher (6.36 according to my calculation). Unless the figures quoted are wrong this may simply have been a miscalculation, perhaps based on having confused the franc and euro figures.
[2] I may have misheard: Hullin’s indictment cited a figure of 4,847 euros.
[3] The indictment noted that SEL’s sole supplier was the Denmark-based based New Era Publications International, which produces Hubbard’s works.
[4] The court had already heard that from September 1997 to April 1999 Aubry had spent a little over 324,000 francs (nearly 50,000 euros) on Scientology and finished up heavily in debt. He withdrew his complaint shortly before the court case, having settled with the movement.
[5] Rinder, of course, is now considered a suppressive himself, having quit the movement and been one of the sources for the St Petersburg Times’ series on the violence and abuse inside the movement that focussed on David Miscavige’s assaults on senior staff – including Rinder.
[6] It was Nadler herself who had revealed to investigators during interviews.
[7] Again, it is worth pointing out, that in Scientology terms, Nadler was offering a perfectly accurate definition. “Hard Sell means insistence that people buy. It means caring about the person and not being reasonable about stops or barriers but caring enough to get him through the stops or barriers to get the service that's going to rehabilitate him.” HCO policy letter Sept. 26, 1979.
Not also the official Scientology definition of hard sell: 1. means insistence people buy. (HCO PL 4 Mar 65 II) 2. caring about the person, not being reasonable with stops and barriers and getting him fully paid up and taking the service (LRH ED 159R-1 INT) Modern Management Technology Defined.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

23 The Celebrity Centre II

The Purification Rundown is a religious purification rite that cures nothing, Scientologist Eric Roux told the court.

When the subject of the personality tests came up, Roux was quick to tackle one of the more embarrassing internal documents read out earlier in the trial. It had referred to the tests as “a good, reliable method of getting people to come in.”

Just as the defendant Alain Rosenberg had said before him, Roux said that this was an old document from the 1960s and thus misleading.

The test was more about helping find their “spiritual aptitudes” helping them towards self-determination. The test, he said, was a “spiritual mirror of how that person feels”, he added.

So why then was it introduced as something based on scientific research, asked the judge?

“I don’t care if it is scientific,” said Roux. Speaking for himself, he said, he was not interested in that aspect.

Judge Château noted that in the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton’s case, there had been no reference to the Church of Scientology. It only referred to the Dianetics Centre. Why, she asked?

Because it had been the Dianetics Centre that had printed it, said Roux – and the fact was, he added, “Malton knew very well that it was Scientology.” Anyone entering the Celebrity Centre could not fail to realise that it was part of the Church of Scientology.

But Judge Château was still not satisfied.

“Do you not think that some people, perhaps wrongly, would hesitate to do the test if they knew it was Scientology, whereas if it is Dianetics it is more mysterious?”

Dianetics and Scientology were associated, said Roux. But in any case, 90 percent of people came to Scientology not via the test but by other means.

Was it a policy to hand out the test in more affluent districts, asked the judge?

“Not at all,” said Roux. “There is no general advice.” But Scientologists were in a no-win situation, he argued.

“When we go into a poor neighbourhood, we are accused of proselytising in a poor neighbourhood; when we go into a rich neighbourhood, we are accused of proselytising in a rich neighbourhood. Whatever we do, we are doing something wrong.”

And how did someone progress in Scientology if they had little or no money, asked the judge? Many services had to be paid for, and even when paid for in instalments you could not get your product until you had made all your payments.

Even in department stores, if you agreed to pay in instalments you could take your purchase home with you, she said.

“We are not in a shop, said Roux. “We are in a church. We can’t let people go without having paid.”

There were various ways people with little or no money could get involved, said Roux. You could come into the Celebrity Centre and get audited for free, he said. And you could still receive pastoral advice at the Centre.

“The real meaning of charity is to help the person to reach a state where they will be able to find their self-determination again,” he said.

“We are going to help the person to the point where they can earn their own living,” said Roux.

Hard sell is “taking care of someone”

Judge Château returned to the case of the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton who in barely four months had spent 140,000 francs (21,000 euros) on Scientology and got herself heavily into debt.

Why were people such as Malton encouraged to take out such exorbitant loans when they were not even paying for courses to be done immediately, but for goods and services two or three years in advance, she asked?

They did not force anyone to take out credit, said Roux. “We want people to progress and that is all that interests us. People want to progress in Scientology.”

So far as Malton was concerned, he said: “From what I heard it was she who wanted to have a service.”

“I’m not sure that is what I heard,” said the judge. And how was she supposed to pay back these loans at 20 percent interest, she asked?

If people spent large sums of money on Scientology – or took out loans to pay for their progress in the movement – it was their decision, said Roux.

“If some people do so, it is because they want to pay for their spiritual progress and that is more important than something like a loan for a new car.”

Staffers put no pressure on people, he said. “Of course it is our interest to have contributions, but there is a nuance between encouraging and forcing people: no one is forced to do anything.”

And what about what hard-sell tactics described by the plaintiffs and the training in hard sell mentioned by former member Roger Gonnet, she asked?

“No, absolutely not,” said Roux. In Scientology, hard sell meant something else entirely: “The definition is that someone is going to take care of someone, because someone asks.”[1]

So far as Scientology’s internal documents on hard sell were concerned, he said: “These are old texts. This has nothing to do with Scientology. If Roger Gonnet practises Scientology that way, then I understand. He is an anti-Scientology activist.”

And what about the defendant Jean-François Valli’s advice to the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton to take out a loan with SOFINCO, asked the judge? Was that part of normal Scientology counselling, or had Valli made a mistake here?

“I think he would have done better not to do that,” said Roux. “It is not at all the practice of the association to do that.” But it was difficult to prevent such things happening on every occasion.

Judge Château referred to the document that had been drawn up for Malton, advising step-by-step on how to proceed: from resigning her job to moving to a cheaper apartment. Was that part of Scientology’s “hard sell”, she asked?

“We don’t take care of the way people manage their finances,” said Roux. But if people wanted to become staffers – as Malton had been on the point of doing before she quit the movement – then, with their consent, they would be advised on how best to go about it.

“And for you this was entirely normal?” asked the judge. Malton had paid for training several years in advance and yet suddenly she was taking up a job that entitled her to free training.

Malton’s situation had been a fairly uncommon one, said Roux. “Generally, people with large sums of money are not staffers. If Mme Malton had persisted with her request to be a staff member and had been accepted… she would have been refunded.”

Pressed on this matter later by Maître Olivier Morice, Malton’s lawyer, he added: “You don’t become a staff member because you want free services [but] because you want to carry the Scientology flame, because you have observed its benefits.”

And what about the practice of follow-up calls: contacting people at work to get them to buy more courses, asked the judge?

“That is not the practice of Scientology unless someone specifically requests it,” said Roux. “What is a follow-up call? That is something from a business: we are not a business. We train auditors so people can progress spiritually. People phone us sometimes.”

“We are curing nothing” (on the Rundown)

Turning to the Purification Rundown, Judge Château said she was still not clear about the rules regarding doses or the training of its supervisors – and even Scientology’s own witness, Dr. David Root, had been unable to clear up the matter, she said.

Dr. Root had said that the way Scientology ran the programme was perfectly correct, said Roux. But this was a question of freedom of religion, he said.

“It is not just freedom of belief, but freedom to practise,” he added.

The court was associating the Purification Rundown with something medical, said Roux. “This is nothing to do with medicine. We are curing nothing. It is a purification rite, in which we have no pretensions towards curing anything.”

The Purification Rundown, he said, was about spiritual liberation.

The court’s first priority was that the law was being respected, said the judge. And if this procedure violated the law, then that was a problem, surely?

“If you say that Scientologists have not got the right to do the Purification Rundown then you are violating our right to practise our religion,” said Roux.

No, said the judge: but it had to be practised within the limits set by the law. What safety measures were taken, she asked?

“It isn’t for me to decide,” said Roux. A doctor was consulted to see if someone was medically fit to do the Rundown, he said. “For the rest of it, we are doing a religious programme. Thousands of people in France have done this programme without any problem,” he added.

And referring back to Scientology’s witness, Dr. Root, Roux rejected any suggestion that the treatment needed to be adjusted to account for factors such as weight or age. “He said for healthy people there was no need to individualise treatment.”

Judge Château asked about the files kept on the Scientologists taking services: she wanted to know who had access to what.

“The religious files are secret and are not available to everyone,” said Roux.

Judge Château reminded him that former plaintiff Eric Aubry had said that Scientologists had made inappropriate remarks to him touching on aspects of his personal life that had come out in auditing sessions – and that this material was meant to be secret.

“If someone uses someone’s files, then that is a serious offence (faute grave),” said Roux. It had never happened in his experience.

And could a file be used against someone; could it be sent to the United States, asked the judge?

Roux effectively repeated his earlier answer: “If a staff member used something in a file on someone that would be a serious offence.” But he denied Aubry complaint that he had been put under pressure and made to feel guilty.

Judge Château turned to the defendant Alain Rosenberg’s position on the organisation chart: he had insisted during his testimony that his post of “executive director” – positioned at the top of the organisational chart – did not mean he had any actual executive role. Roux confirmed this.

His role was more one of coordination, said Roux. He officiated at major events and carried out the conventional religious duties. He was also involved in training and developing new courses. And although it was an important post, it should not be confused with the conventional meaning it was given in English.

He was pressed a little further on this by one of the other judges: Eric Aubry had spoken about Rosenberg as being the leader of the association.

“Rosenberg does all the big events,” said Roux.

“No,” said the judge: “He spoke of him as the leader.”
[1] In Scientology terms, this is perfectly true: “Hard Sell means insistence that people buy. It means caring about the person and not being reasonable about stops or barriers but caring enough to get him through the stops or barriers to get the service that's going to rehabilitate him.” HCO policy letter Sept. 26, 1979, Thanks to John Peeler for tracking that one down. See also the official Scientology definition of hard sell: 1. means insistence people buy. (HCO PL 4 Mar 65 II) 2. caring about the person, not being reasonable with stops and barriers and getting him fully paid up and taking the service (LRH ED 159R-1 INT) Modern Management Technology Defined.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

38 The Great Escape?

Sept. 15: A hitherto unnoticed change in French law will prevent a court from dissolving the two Scientology organisations charged in the Paris trial, as prosecutors had recommended.

Judges will not be able to follow the prosecutors’ recommendations to shut down two organisations charged in the Paris trial of Scientology thanks to a law passed just before the case was tried.

The law, voted May 12, was part of a package designed to simplify existing legislation. But buried in a long list of measures was one removing the power of judges to order the dissolution of an organisation found guilty of fraud.

The change to article 131-39 of the penal code went through so quietly that even the prosecutors did not notice: for it was this measure that they recommended applying in their June summing up at the Paris trial of six Scientologists and two of the movement’s organisations.

They called for both the Paris’ Celebrity Centre – L'Association spirituelle de l'Eglise de Scientologie (ASES) – and Scientologie espace librairie (SEL), which runs the movement’s bookshops in France, to be shut down.[1]

Georges Fenech, president of the government’s cult watchdog MIVILUDES, sounded the alarm on Monday.

“The law has been modified without debate, without consultation,” he said in a statement. “Even the Paris prosecutors’ office got it wrong. I’m amazed.”

In a statement, Jean-Luc Warsmann, the French deputy whose legal package included the change, said nobody had raised any objections during the 10 months parliament had worked on the proposals.

He also pointed out that the relevant law still provided for harsh sanctions, including a ban on certain activities.

Justice ministry spokesman Guillaume Didier made a similar point in comments to AFP.

“Under the current law there still exists the possibility for the court, in the face of an offence of simple fraud, to hand down a definitive ban on the exercise of one or several professional or social activities, as well as the definitive closure of the establishments where the infraction was committed,” he said.

It is not as if the judges’ hands are tied then – assuming of course they find any of the defendants guilty and that they feel such harsh sanctions are warranted.

Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has already made it clear, in comments to Reuters, that the law in question will be reinstated. [A September 23 amendment by the Senate, France's upper parliamentary chamber, cancelled the offending article: ed.] But that changes nothing in the present case.

It is the current law that will apply when the judgement is handed down on October 27: any change to the law could not be applied retroactively.

Some observers however see this as a blessing in disguise, for even among Scientology’s critics, there are those who think that a ban would have been a step too far.

They feared an outright ban would strengthen Scientology's argument that they are victims of religious persecution.

For Fenech at MIVILUDES however, dissolution is a vital weapon in the arsenal against cult activities.

“In the face of cult-like organisations presenting a real danger to public order and public health, the courts must always be able to have such a measure,” he said, calling for the sanction to be reinstated as soon as possible.

Cock-up or conspiracy?

A Scientology statement expressed incredulity that Fenech, with his experience as a magistrate and then a deputy, could have missed such a crucial change to the law.

“M. Fenech is trying to make us think he is incompetent – so one is entitled to ask if it is not in fact more serious…” it said.

Could Fenech have deliberately kept quiet about the change to the law so he could fuel the fires of a debate over shutting down Scientology in France, the statement asked?

“Whether it’s incompetence or manipulation this is a scandalous affair. It has already done the Church a lot of damage…” the statement added – and Fenech was one of the main culprits.[2]

Other observers also sense a conspiracy: but of quite another kind.

Maître Olivier Morice, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the trial, made it clear in comments to Le Point magazine that for him, this was more than just an unfortunate accident.

Catherine Picard, President of UNADFI, an alliance of counter-cult groups in France, expressed similar doubts in comments to France Info radio.

And left-wing Jean-Pierre Brard, who testified at the trial in his capacity as a specialist on cults, has called for an inquiry to find out who had been behind the crucial amendment.[3]

Given the timing of the legal change, just weeks before the Scientology trial started, one can understand their frustration. It is not after all the first time that Scientology has lucked out in a French legal case.

In 1998, key documents went missing from the Paris court-house in a long-running case against Scientology. After years of legal wrangling, the case eventually hit a wall: it never got to trial.

“Eolas”, a Paris lawyer who runs a blog on legal affairs, does not say whether he thinks this latest incident amounts to a cock-up or a conspiracy.

But his witty analysis of the affair demonstrates that if people in high places did want to sneak through a change to the law, this is how they would do it.

Eolas shows how the crucial measure was buried under an unreadable pile of legalese. This, he says, is how you get lawmakers to vote through just about anything without their having the least idea of what they are approving.

Warsmann, a deputy for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, may have put his name to the vote, but he would not have drafted the changes himself, says Eolas.

That would have been done by the government’s lawyers.

His concern is that when deputies are blindly rubber-stamping blocks of incomprehensible prose, there is a real potential for abuse. “All it needs is a well-placed hand to pass expedient texts without anybody reacting,” he argues.

Lawyers' concerns

The two main unions representing France’s lawyers released separate statements on the affair Tuesday. Both had trouble accepting the government’s explanation that it had been a simple error.

Developing Fenech’s argument, L’Union syndicale de magistrats (USM) pointed out that the sanction of dissolution had only been removed in the case of fraud.

“It has however been retained for all other offences, including embezzlement, forgery and money laundering, offences not included in the trial,” of Scientology, said the statement.

Without actually calling for a parliamentary inquiry, the USM statement urged the government to “shed light on what could well be a state scandal.”

Left-leaning lawyers’ union le Syndicat de la magistrature (SM) found the timing of the change to the law suspicious.

It rejected the justice ministry’s plea that this was a simple mistake, given the months spent working on the text, Warsmann’s comments defending it and what it saw as the obscure manner in which the change had been introduced.

Without actually making the accusation, the SM statement also asked if the government had simply been too susceptible to Scientology lobbying.

But it also allowed for the possibility that his might have been just be another example of what it called the right-wing government’s “rampant decriminalisation” of business affairs.

Either way, the SM called for a parliamentary inquiry. “The questions raised by this affair cannot remain unanswered,” it said.

So was this a cock-up, as the government claims, or a conspiracy? Picking up on the second theory advanced by the Syndicat de la magistrature (SM), there is always the possibility it was a bit of both.

If this was a surreptitious bid by the government to ease the sanctions in place against corporate France, the benefit to Scientology may simply have been an unintended consequence. But that still does not explain why it covered fraud – and fraud only.

If the current government is sympathetic to Scientology, then a planned overhaul of the judiciary could benefit the movement still further.

The government is currently pushing through reforms that will phase out the role of investigating magistrate, transferring much of their powers to the prosecutors’ office.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has led the charge against these magistrates, criticising them for the excessive power they yield inside the French legal system, a power which he and others have argued has sometimes been abused.

Their defenders however stress the independent role they play. Several cases, particularly some politically sensitive ones, would never have reached court had it not been for the investigating magistrate concerned, they argue.

In this context, it is worth remembering that while the two prosecutors assigned to the Paris trial took a tough line against Scientology from the start, this was a 180-degree switch from the position their office had initially taken.

Three years earlier, when the investigation was still ongoing, the prosecution had argued that there was no case to answer.

The case only reached court because the investigating magistrate reached entirely different conclusions – and had the power to ignore the prosecutor’s office position.

This is an issue that goes way beyond the current row over Scientology, of course. But if the reforms do go through, the government’s critics will doubtless be keeping a close watch on the prosecutor's office.

They will need convincing that it is as robust in its approach to politically sensitive cases as the investigative magistrates have been.

[1] They also called for both organisations to be fined two million euros and for any goods related to the fraud to be confiscated.
[2] Fenech and Scientology have history of course: as an investigating magistrate in the 1990s, he was behind a major legal defeat for Scientology in which a senior Scientologist was convicted of manslaughter over the suicide of one of the movement’s followers. The court in Lyon said Patrice Vic had in part been driven to his death because of the tremendous pressure to buy more courses.
[3] Brard has served on three parliamentary inquiries into cults. He also sits on the advisory board of MIVILUDES.

Monday, 14 September 2009

22 The Celebrity Centre I

The personality test is not a major recruitment tool, 100 percent of refund requests are granted and “hard sell” means taking care of people, a Scientologist told the court.

“I imagine you have been well trained,” said Judge Sophie-Hélène Château, which appeared to be a reference to earlier testimony that Scientologists were trained to lie in court.

Not at all, said Eric Roux: the truth was a vital part of Scientology.[1]

Roux, tall, thin and dressed in a dark grey suit, may have spent most of the trial sitting beside the other defendants, but he personally ran no risk of spending a day in jail.

He was in court to represent the Paris Celebrity Centre, where some of the alleged frauds had taken place, and which was one of the two Scientology organisations on trial.

Roux took the stand on the morning of Wednesday, June 10, to rebut the allegations laid against the Celebrity Centre.

Under close questioning from the judge, Roux gave a composed, polished performance in the hours that followed.

During his testimony, he made a number of statements that directly contradicted earlier evidence, notably from former Scientologist Roger Gonnet:

- he repeatedly played down the significance of the personality test as a recruitment tool, dismissing as outdated internal Scientology documents that suggested otherwise;
- he insisted that all refund requests were honoured, despite plaintiffs’ claims to the contrary;
- and he redefined a number of key words in Scientology terms: “hard sell”, he said, was actually about helping people.

The Centre – or the L'Association spirituelle de l'Eglise de Scientologie (ASES) as it was officially called – had been set up under France’s laws for non-profit associations, said Roux. Its aim was to spread the word about the Scientology religion.

It had 135 members of staff who looked after the needs of the 500 regulars who used its services, whether studying the writings of founder L. Ron Hubbard or practising Scientology’s auditing techniques.

Scientology, said Roux, required a major commitment: “It is not enough to believe in God,” he said. It also required extensive study of Hubbard’s writings – just as a Christian seminarian might study the Bible.

Roux acknowledged that the court had had difficulty understanding how one could be said to be “donating” money for something that had to be purchased.

“I saw there were questions,” said Roux. “I grant you… these are not gifts in the legal sense of the term.”

But Scientology was a religion that had been founded in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, he said, and in those countries, they used the word “donation”.

In making these fixed donations, said Roux, parishioners were simply acknowledging the work that their Church did. “They are contributing to the Church and at the same time that gives them the right to a service.”

And as he understood it, other religions practised something very similar, he said.

In the Hindu religions, there were fixed prices for certain rites, he said; the Anglican Church set a tariff for its mass “…and if you don’t pay the tariff you don’t get a mass.”

Judge Château wanted to know if all this would have been explained to Aude-Claire Malton, the main plaintiff in the case. Certainly, said Roux. Each time a service was offered, there would be an accompanying form to explain what the payment was for.

“It is clearly marked that this is a religious service,” he said.

Roux turned to the issue of advance payments: he preferred to call them contributions.

“There is this idea that all Scientologists are pushed to make payments in advance,” he said. It simply was not true: he could name 20 fellow Scientologists who simply paid for each service as they did it.

But if others did choose to pay ahead, that was their right, he added.

“This is something people are passionate about,” he explained. He himself had spent 50,000 francs (7,600 euros) on auditing in two weeks, he said. “Why? Because it was what I was looking for and I had found it.”

But while some people were prepared to advance large sums of money for the training – and take the reductions that came with it – others would not come in for training for several years.

Averaged out, he said, the annual spending of a Scientologist on his training was about 1,000 euros.

“We would have to close if people did not finance us,” he said. “There is not one cent that goes towards making a profit.”

“There is no problem with refunds”

Judge Château asked him about the suggestion from former member Roger Gonnet that staffers’ income was linked to their performance.

“Gonnet knows nothing about the management of the Church of Scientology,” said Roux.

He did acknowledge that if there was not a lot of money coming in then sometimes payments to staff would be less. But that did not mean that staffers were penalised proportionally.

Roux also dismissed Gonnet’s claim that if a centre issued a refund, it would have to answer to international management – and that the money would come out of a staffer’s pay.

“There is no problem with refunds,” he said. “That is totally false.”

The court had already heard testimony that if you quit Scientology you could get a full refund from Scientology – but you would receive no further training from them. But what about partial refunds, Judge Château asked?

Former plaintiff Eric Aubry for example, who had finally settled out of court with Scientology, had struggled to get his partial refund when he first requested it.

“It is very rare that someone asks for a partial refund,” said Roux, “and normally, the rule is that if you ask for a refund then you no longer take part in Scientology courses.”

Judge Château persisted: in Aubry’s case, he had originally wanted to continue in the movement, but nevertheless needed some of his money back: he subsequently complained about not having received that refund. So what happened in such cases, she wanted to know?

Aubry had dropped his request for a refund after he had had a meeting with the chaplain, said Roux. “If he had continued to ask for a refund, he would have had it.”

If Scientology’s own literature stipulated that asking for a refund disqualified you from further training that suggested a percentage of people were asking for their money back, said the judge. So how many such requests were accepted, she asked?

“All requests for refunds are accepted,” said Roux: “A hundred percent.” But very few Scientologists, three percent at most, requested it.

Asked about pricing, Roux explained that it was the mother church that fixed the rates.

And he estimated about 10 percent of the centre’s income was paid to the mother church –transferred by conventional means, he added, dismissing Gonnet’s account of smuggling cash to the States hidden in his underpants.

“We have a very strict financial system… we are totally open in our accounts,” he said.

They had, after all, survived years of intense scrutiny by the US Internal Revenue Service – and one of the IRS stipulations had been that the money was not to be used for personal enrichment.

During later questioning, prosecutor Nicolas Baïetto put it to him that a former treasurer of the Celebrity Centre, as Mme Noucrati, had told investigators that refunds had to be referred to the United States, just as Gonnet had said.

“Absolutely not…” said Roux: “We don’t have to go through the mother Church.”

“…there is no financial motivation”

More than one of the plaintiffs had said they had been pressured to pay before Thursday or risk seeing the prices go up.

Former member Roger Gonnet had spoken of the tremendous pressure staffers were under to bring in more money than the previous week, with Thursday 2:00 pm as the deadline.

Why was there such pressure to bring money in before Thursday 2:00 pm, asked the judge?

Naturally, said Roux, the mother church was happy to see finances improve. “We are not saying we are not pleased when someone makes a major contribution.” But nobody was getting rich out of this process, he insisted.

If they wanted to bring in more money, it was “so we can do our charity work… because we think that Scientology can help humanity progress.”

The judge tried again: “Why are you required to improve your figures each week?”

“Of course we have targets, but they are not just financial,” said Roux. “Our most important target is the number of Clears,” he said, referring to a stage in a Scientologist’s development that is highly regarded inside the movement.

“You haven’t answered my question,” said the judge.

All that happened on Thursday, said Roux, was they went over the figures and discussed what they had achieved – “financial figures among others,” said Roux. Given what the staff at the Celebrity Centre earned, he added, “I can assure you there is no financial motivation.”

And what happened to someone if their figures were poor, asked the judge?

“Nothing at all,” said Roux.

“But you value someone whose figures are good?” she asked.

“Not necessarily,” said Roux.

Gonnet had testified that centres had to send weekly telexes to the headquarters in the United State. If the figures were bad, said Gonnet, the centres would come under pressure from head office to better the following week.

Roux dismissed that as nonsense: these telexes simply contained the weekly figures: how many people had been audited; how many had reached the state of Clear; how many people had been introduced to Scientology.

“The aim of the association is a religious one,” he said. “It is not to put money in our pockets because we don’t put it there.”

Judge Château turned to the relationship between the non-profit Celebrity Centre (ASES) and the for-profit bookshop (SEL) – the two organisations on trial.

The issue was important because the charges of organised fraud against them rested to some extent on the accusation that the organisations’ separation of roles was an illusion.

Roux said that both legally and from a management perspective, the two were entirely separate and had been so since 1997, a measure undertaken at the request of the tax authorities.

What about when the Celebrity Centre had shared the banking facilities of the bookshop, asked the judge?

That had happened for a six-month period when the Celebrity Centre had found itself without a bank-card machine and was having trouble getting banking facilities in France.

“Our followers couldn’t make contributions,” he said. So they had asked the bookshop if they could use their facilities. “I don’t know if that was correct or not, but it lasted only six months.”

Judge Valli pointed out that one of the defendants, salesman Jean-François Valli, had worked for both organisations. Roux did not see that as a problem.

For Roux it was only natural that people doing Scientology courses in the Celebrity Centre would also be buying Hubbard’s work from the bookshop.

“That is not the problem,” said the judge. The problem was that people buying services might also be paying for books as part of a package – and that raised the possibility that sales of the Celebrity Centre’s courses and SEL’s books might feature in the same bills.

Roux argued that it was hard for someone doing Scientology courses to find Scientology books elsewhere: “These are not books accepted by everyone,” he argued.

So for you, there is no problem so far as separation is concerned, asked the judge?

“Not at all,” said Roux: while there might have been a problem during the period they shared banking facilities, today their management and activities were totally separate.
[1] I confess I missed this exchange myself, but it appears in more than one press write-up (AFP, Le Parisien) and one of the lawyers in court confirmed the details after the trial.