Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Appeal Court Judgment

The Court of Appeal in Paris confirmed the convictions of the two Scientology organisations for organised fraud, a decision which some say is the beginning of the end for the movement.

On Thursday, February 2, the Court of Appeal in Paris confirmed the conviction of two Scientology organisations for organised fraud.

It also upheld convictions for organised fraud and charges relating to the illegal practice of pharmacy against five Scientologists, increasing the sentences against two of the appellants. (A sixth person, who failed to turn up for the appeal trial and was not legally represented, had her original conviction confirmed by default.)

The appeal court conformed the following  convictions and sentences:

The Association Spirituelle de l’Eglise de Scientologie CC (ASES), the Celebrity Centre, was convicted of organised fraud.

It was fined 400,000 euros and ordered to pay for the details of the conviction to be published in several major French newpapers: Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, Le Parisien and Ouest France.

Scientology’s network of bookshops Scientologie Espace Librarie (SEL) was also convicted of organised fraud.

It was fined 200,000 euros and ordered to pay for the publication of the conviction in the same newspapers.[i]

The court confirmed the convictions and sentences against three of the appelants:
  • Alain Rosenberg, the managing director of the Celebrity Centre, was convicted on appeal of organised fraud and of complicity in the illegal exercise of pharmacy. He received a two-year suspended prison sentence and a 30,000-euro fine;
  • Didier Michaux, the bookshop’s star salesman, was convicted on appeal of organised fraud. He received an 18-month suspended sentence and a 20,000-euro fine;
  • Jean-François Valli, the other bookshop salesman, who also did work for the Celebrity Centre, was convicted on appeal of organised fraud. He received an 18-months suspended sentence and a 10,000-euro fine.
But the court increased the sentence against two of the defendants: 
  • Sabine Jacquart, the then president of the Celebrity Centre, was convicted on appeal of organised fraud and of complicity in the illegal exercise of pharmacy. She received a two-year suspended sentence and a 30,000-euro fine. (She was originally sentenced to a 10-month suspended sentence and a 5,000-euro fine.); 

  • Aline Fabre, who supervised the Purification Rundown at the Celebrity Centre, was convicted on appeal of the illegal exercise of pharmacy. Her fine was increased from 2,000 euros in the original sentence to 10,000 euros.
Fabre, Jacquart, Rosenberg (and Anne-Marie Pasturel, who was not represented during the appeal trial) were each ordered to pay the National Order of Pharmacists 5,000 euros in compensation.

Neither the defendants nor their lawyers were in court to hear the judgment. They had walked-out half-way through the trial protesting that they could not get a fair hearing.

Outside the court, Maître Olivier Morice for the counter-cult group UNADFI described it as a historic victory, and a case which had been followed by several European countries where court cases are pending.

“It is the first time in France that Scientology has been convicted as an organisation for organised fraud,” he said.

“I think that we are at the beginning of other key decisions against Scientology, which could lead to its banning, or its dissolution,” he added.

Back in 1998, when he had first filed the complaint in this case (on behalf of one of the then plaintiffs), “we knew that this was a time bomb that would explode under Scientology.”

What Scientologists now had to understand was that they were involved in an organisation whose methods had been found to be fraudulent, said Morice.

“This decision was awaited by several European countries, notably Germany and Belgium -- where extremely serious cases against Scientology are currently being prepared,” he added.

“We have also been contacted by the Australians who are launching cases against Scientology and in the United States different lawsuits by (former) Scientologists are currently ongoing.

“I think that France is in the forefront of the fight against this organisation and for all those who fight against cult-like tendencies today this is a striking and historic decision.”

A spokesman for Scientology announced that they would take their case to France’s supreme court, the Cour de Cassation.

A statement issued by Scientology Celebrity Centre denounced the judgment as “totally flawed and unfair”.

The judgment, it said, was the product “of a sort of ghost trial” in which irregularities and violations of the defendants’ human rights had followed one after the other.

The statement recalled that they had walked out of the proceedings in protest at the court’s refusal to ensure the basic rights of the defence.

Throughout the trial, it said, they had had doubts about the independence of the court given the attempts by executive powers to interfere with the case.

This was a reference to a justice ministry circular issued shortly before the appeal trial was due to start, which issued guidelines on “…vigilance and the struggle against cult-like tendencies.”

This circular was now the subject of a complaint to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (attached to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), said the statement.

The statement also denounced the court’s refusal to exclude UNADFI from the proceedings.

Judge Forkel had deferred a ruling on that question until the full judgment was handed down – and today's judgment rejected UNADFI’s request, as the lower court had done.

Scientology’s objection was that by deferring her decision until after the trial, she had allowed UNADFI’s lawyer Morice to continue to “pollute the debate… spreading rumours and lies about the Scientology religion”.

The statement also accused the court of having refused the defence access to court files which would have allowed them to show that UNADFI’s had not filed the necessary papers to apply for plaintiff status and so had no business being in court.

Moreover, the statement added, key documents essential to the defence had disappeared from the files and Scientology’s lawyers had therefore filed a complaint for theft.

It also argued that the appeal court had delivered its ruling when an appeal to the Cour de Cassation was also underway on the question of whether the court had exceeded its powers.

In these circumstances, Scientology argued, the court could not legally a make ruling on the facts of the case.

In the United States, Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw described the ruling as a “miscarriage of justice” and said they planned to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.[ii]

[i] The lower court sentence had also ordered defendants to pay for adverts in two major English-language publications: The International Herald Tribune and Time magazine. But the appeal court judgment dropped them from its ruling. It also dropped an order for the sentences to be published on the websites of these news outlets. Appeal court prosecutor Hugues Woirhaye had pointed out the law did not provide for such a penalty at the time the offences in question took place, back in 1998.
[ii] Pouw’s reaction was reported by Associated Press: French court upholds Scientology fraud conviction. February 2, 2012. As I understand it, any complaint to the ECHR can only go ahead after they have exhausted every legal avenue in the French system, which rather suggests they anticipate another setback in the Cour de Cassation.


  1. Vive la Forkel! Vive la France!

    Les "donneurs de leçons" have been taught a lesson.

    What is fraud in Paris is fraud in London, New York, Montreal, and everywhere else Scientology plies its wares.

  2. Thanks, Jonny. You are the English-speaking world's connection to this case!

    Are the CoS organisations also still required to post the notice in the international newspapers/journals, including Time Magazine?

  3. You're welcome Heather: in fact, the IHT and Time magazine, both of which were cited in the original judgment, are absent from the appeal court's ruling sentence.

    So too is any mention of publishing the sentences on the websites of any news outlet, because as Hugues Woirhaye, the prosecutor in the appeal court trial, pointed out in his closing speech, the law did not provide for such a penalty back when these offences were committed.

  4. Remembering Operation Snow White, if there was actually a theft of documents...[whoah there! snipped by nervous editor]...

    As an aside, I haven't thanked you, Mr. Jacobsen, for your efforts in documenting and explaining this whole affair. Let me correct that now. I haven't commented in blog entries before now, but I have been following on WWP where your explanations of the various issues have helped my understanding greatly.

    Thank you for your efforts in helping expose the fraud that is Scientology, and making things clearer for us out here in the peanut gallery (so to speak).