Thursday, 24 May 2012

Scientology Cries Foul II

Scientology's campaign to present its Paris convictions as a miscarriage of justice betrays the movement's conspiratorial mindset.

Scientology's recent attack on an article by French security specialist Arnaud Palisson was just the latest in a series of attempts to highlight what they see as a political conspiracy against them.i

The point of their May 2 demonstration outside the offices of the ENM in the heart of Paris was not to attack the school as such: it was to draw attention to the way they thought organisations hostile to Scientology were being allowed to “indoctrinate” magistrates.

As well as Palisson, the lecturers at the ENM have included members of the government's cult watchdog MIVILUDES – now under the more robust leadership of Georges Fenech –
and the counter-cult group UNADFI.

Both organisations of course, have been extremely critical of Scientology's activities: UNADFI tried in vain to gain the status of plaintiff in the Paris case.ii

But whether you see these bodies as legitimate organisations doing a public service or as players in a government conspiracy to destroy freedom of religion rather depends on where you are standing.

For Scientology, of course, it is the latter.

Repeated assurances from both bodies that their role is to target the excesses that result from extreme, authoritarian belief systems, cut no ice with them.

Even before the appeal trial had started, Scientology had launched a series of initiatives trying to show that the decks were stacked against them, (as reported earlier at Infinite Complacency).iii

Maud Morel-Coujard, chief prosecutor in the original trial, had called for Scientology's dissolution, unaware that this was impossible because the relevant law had been modified just weeks earlier, in what the government insisted was a simple slip of the pen.

For Scientology, the prosecution's embarrassing error here was somehow evidence of a conspiracy to destroy the movement; that the law had been inadvertently changed in their favour just weeks before the trial opened did not seem to register.

Scientology also made much of a five-page circular circulated by the justice ministry to prosecutors and judges reviewing the legal territory regarding cults and the legal remedies available to the courts.

Issued a few weeks before the trial on appeal was due to start, last November, this was clearly an attempt to unduly influence the court against them, the movement argued: never mind that it made no mention of Scientology. The document formed the basis of an unsuccessful bid to get the trial postponed.

Then, during the trial itself – Tuesday, November 10 – there was a stand-up shouting match in court between the defence lawyers and Oliver Morice for UNADFI (as covered earlier at Infinite Complacency).iv

At dispute was whether the court had received documents establishing that the association had been legally constituted in such a way as to be eligible for plaintiff status – a point hotly disputed by the defence.

Judge Claudine Forkel had to call in the bâtonnier, a kind of courtroom mediator, to sort out the dispute in a conference in her chambers.

When hearings resumed the following week, the judge made it clear that so far as she was concerned, the incident was closed – another blow to Scientology's bid to have Olivier Morice, UNADFI's lawyer, excluded from the proceedings.

That same day, November 15, Scientology issued a press release expressing its outrage.

In what it said was an unprecedented development, the court had refused to check whether the key UNADFI document was actually part of the court papers.

Unprecedented in legal history!” exclaimed Maître Jean-Marc Florand, who was representing the Celebrity Centre at the trial.v

Two days later, they announced that one of the defendants, former Celebrity Centre president Sabine Jacquart, had filed a complaint for theft over what she said was the disappearance of the key documents relating to UNADFI's

Jacquart was appealing her conviction for organised fraud and complicity in the illegal exercise of pharmacy. The Celebrity Centre, which was appealing its own conviction for organised fraud, attached itself to her complaint.

But in their statement announcing the initiative, Scientology saw fit to bring up an old case they might have been better advised to have left alone.

After more than 15 years of unfounded rumours over the disappearance of elements in another file, the Church wants light to be shed on this new disappearance, so once and for all it can be established what is the source of these disappearances, which have always been to the prejudice of the Church and favourable to its detractors, who have access to all the places of power.vii

This is an interesting take on a case that dates back to the 1980s: so a little background is in order.

The Cordero affairviii

In 1989, 22-year-old Ecuadorian student Juan Esteban Cordero filed a complaint for fraud after a brush with Scientology.

Drawn in by the promise of unleashing his psychic potential, during just four months inside the movement he had spent around a million francs (about 150,000 euros). So he went to a lawyer arguing, in effect, that he had been a victim of mind control.ix

Complaints from other former Scientologists, some of whose experiences dated back as early as 1983, were attached to the case: a lawyer, a doctor, a businessman who had sold his flat and business to pay for his courses.

But the investigation, into possible fraud and illegal practice of medicine, dragged on into the 1990s, showing no signs of coming to trial.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs grew increasingly frustrated at the inactivity of Marie-Paul Moracchini, the investigating magistrate handling the case, with at least one lawyer complaining his letters to her had gone unanswered.

Finally in 1997 Cordero's lawyer, Nicolay Fakiroff, decided to bypass her, applying directly to the Paris courts to wrap up the investigation stage of the case in a bid to get it to court.x

It was when the documents were transferred from Moracchini's office the following year that court officials discovered that a substantial part of the case files were missing.

Moracchini insisted that when she had transferred the case files to the magistrates' offices they were complete: by the time they had arrived however, half of volume eight and all of volume nine were missing from the 10-volume dossier.

Fakiroff was not the only lawyer pushing for progress in the investigation.

In 1997 Jean-Michel Pesenti, a lawyer for five of the plaintiffs, went with one of his clients to meet Moracchini. He too was unhappy about her continuing failure, after several years, to bring the case to court.

To his amazement, Moracchini told him that three of the clients he represented in the case – including the one present at the meeting – had written letters to her withdrawing complaints. This was news to him: it was news to his clients too.

It proved impossible, unfortunately, to examine the documents in question: they formed part of the missing files.

At a hearing in November 1998, Scientology lawyer Olivier Metzner called for the case to be struck down because Moracchini had taken no action since May 1993: French law stipulates that such a case falls if it has remained inactive over a three-year period.

Olivier Morice, for UNADFI, insisted that during that period he had been writing to Moracchini calling for action – which in itself would have kept the case active.

But these letters too, proved to be among the missing documents.

The case dragged on through the courts until finally, in 2010, the Supreme Court, Le Cour de Cassation threw out the case – 21 years after Cordero had filed his complaint.

Reviewing the affair, in a special dossier it published last year, Scientology said:

This disappearance made the headlines and was exploited by the plaintiffs and their lawyers (who have strong links to the association UNADFI) to make (people) think of an intervention by the Church. Yet the crime could only profit those who had an interest in the files disappearing. And the Church had no interest in seeing them disappear.xi

It is certainly true that as much as some of the lawyers for the plaintiffs suspected foul play – misgivings shared by Elizabeth Guigou, the justice minister at the time the documents disappeared – no one ever proved that the documents had been stolen.

But it is hard to see how Scientology can argue that they did not benefit from their mysterious disappearance.

Scientology, in its dossier on the Cordero affair, indignantly rejected the suggestion that it could have been behind the disappearance of the case files – but it did speculate that they might have been stolen to benefit someone else.

Its case files might just have been collateral damage from another case, this one involving two police officers under investigation for corruption: for here too, documents had gone missing from Moracchini's office.

The officers under investigation had benefited from the disappearance of documents in their case, Scientology argued.

But one could make the exactly same point about their own affair: for regardless of how the court files came to disappear, neither case made it to trial.xii

Scientology's statement also argued that the investigation against them was in any case already dead because neither Moracchini nor the plaintiffs' lawyers had taken any action for three years. But as we have seen, that rather depends on what was in those missing files.

In its dossier on the Cordero affair, Scientology also noted that the 15 Scientologists targeted in the long-running investigation had sued for and obtained compensation from the state for having had to wait for so long to have their names cleared. (It neglected to mention that a number plaintiffs were also compensated over this fiasco.)xiii

In November 2005, a court awarded 90,000 euros in compensation to the Scientologists for the ordeal to which they had been subjected, most of them receiving around 6,000 euros.

The ruling acknowledged that the loss of the files – and the failure to recover them – constituted a serious failing of the justice system.xiv

Scientology's dossier on the affair even reproduces a page of the judgement in their favour.

Let us be clear about one thing: all of those targeted in this investigation emerged from the affair without a stain on their character.

For veteran Scientology watchers however, the list of those compensated makes for interesting reading: Danièle Gounord is one; Claude Boublil another; and then there is a certain Jacques Alain Rosenberg...

i See Part One of this article.
ii As I have previously mentioned at Infinite Complacency, Fenech, the current president of MIVILUDES (the Inter-ministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Struggle against Cult-like tendencies) made his name in this field as an investigating magistrate in the 1990s in a key case involving Scientology in Lyon. It led to the conviction of a senior Scientologist for 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.UNADFI, a national union of anti-cult groups, bid unsuccessfully to be accepted as plaintiff in the case, both at the original trial and on appeal; one of Scientology's complaints was that its bid was not immediately rejected by either court, which meant it could be represented in court. UNADFI president Catherine Picard also gave evidence as a witness during both trials. Scientology regards UNADFI, which is implacably hostile to its activities, as a tainted source; but it is recognised as an organisation of public utility and receives a state subsidy for its activities – against which Scientology has also campaigned.
iii See “The Appeal Trial: preparing the ground”, elsewhere in this blog.
vDu jamais vu dans les annales judiciaires!(“Unprecedented in legal history!”) at Danièle Gounord's website, and dated November 15, 2011.
vi L’Eglise de Scientologie s’associe à une plainte pour vol” (“The Church of Scientology associates itself with a complaint for theft”: dated November 17, 2001 and available at Danièle Gounord's website. 
viiL’Eglise de Scientologie s’associe à une plainte pour vol, as above.
viiiI wrote up this story at the time for The Herald (Scotland: “At a Loss to Make Legal Findings, December 14, 1998. As a sample of the extensive French coverage see also: “Qui protège Les Sectes?by François Koch in L'Express magazine, March 11, 1999. “Fiasco de la Justice Face à la Scientologie, by Lecadre Renaud in Libération, August 1, 2002; and “Scientologie la secte au dessus des loisby Serge Faubert, in the now-defunct Évènement du Jeudi, November 5, 1998. Faubert is a veteran of the Scientology beat: see also his Avec la scientologie, la justice tient du miraclefor Bakchich, January 15, 2008.
ix The phrase used in the complaint was “conditionnement mental progressif ”.
x He was now acting on behalf of his mother, as Cordero himself had died in 1993.
xiCette disparition a fait les gros titres...” from the first page of the Scientology press release, Les Dossiers Disparus. While this document appears to have been first published at Danièle Gounord's site in June 8, 2011, it was also attached to the November 17 statement cited above.
xiiNotons au passage...from the first page of the Scientology press release, Les Dossiers Disparus. Scientology's file reproduces an extract from an article by investigative journalist Frédéric Charpier in the now-defunct Le Vrai Journal (a magazine that accompanied a popular Canal+ programme fronted by Karl Zero). The extract makes only the briefest mention of the case, but it appears to be a reference to the disappearance of documents in a case related to two police officers under investigation for corruption. As the previous link shows, Moracchini was cleared by an investigation of her professional body the Conseil supérieur de la magistrature (CSM) of any wrongdoing over the missing documents.
xiii The remaining plaintiffs in the case were compensated between 20,000 and 50,000 francs (3,000 and 7,600 euros).
xiv Les Dossiers Disparus” again, at Danièle Gounord's site.

Scientology Cries Foul I

Scientology is arguing that the magistrate who prepared the organised fraud case against it was “indoctrinated”: the latest in a series of bids to get its conviction overturned.

Scientology has seized on an article by a French security specialist to argue that its recent convictions were unfair because the investigating magistrate on the case had been “indoctrinated” by someone hostile to the movement.

They have picked up on a piece that Arnaud Palisson posted at his blog Rapports Minoritaires, a few days after the Court of Appeal in Paris confirmed the convictions against the organisation and five of its members on February 2.

Palisson argued in his February 7 posting that the appeal court ruling had vindicated the line he had advocated in his doctoral thesis on Scientology a decade earlier on the best way to build a case against the movement.

The indictment, the trial and convictions had followed the lines set out in his thesis, in particular by going after the organisation itself rather than just individual members, he pointed out.

He had also recommended that organised fraud was in many cases the most appropriate charge to bring against the organisation: it was on just this charge that Scientology's Celebrity Centre and its network of bookshops in France were eventually convicted.

Palisson wrote that he had passed on his thesis to a magistrate investigating Scientology in Belgium (the case is still to come to trial) and another investigating the movement in France: the case just handled at the Paris appeal court.

But after publishing his thesis online in 2002 he found himself the target of a vigorous lobbying campaign by Scientology, which led to his being sidelined from his post at Renseignements Généraux (the intelligence branch of the police service, part of the interior ministry).

A scheduled secondment to Miviludes, the government watchdog body on cult activities attached to the prime minister's office, was also cancelled, wrote Palisson. The then president of Miviludes, Jean-Louis Langlais, did not even take the trouble to call him to say that his attachment had been cancelled, he recalled.i

He eventually quit in disgust and moved to Canada.

Palisson knew he was being marginalised when he stopped getting invited to lecture at the school for investigating magistrates, l'Ecole nationale de la magistrature (ENM).ii

But it is precisely those lectures he gave to the ENM that have become the focus of Scientology's latest attack.

On Wednesday, May 2, a few dozen Scientologists demonstrated outside the ENM buildings on Paris' Ile de la Cité, just along from the law courts – and around the corner from Notre Dame Cathedral. A statement from the movement read:

In the course of these sessions, instead of being trained on the application of the law as it applies generally and equally to all citizones, the ENM indoctrinates magistrates on how specifically to go after religious movements … and their members stigmatised by Miviludes.iii

Their complaint was based on what they believed to be the revelations in Palisson's February 7 posting that in October 2002 he had lectured the investigating magistrate who was working on the fraud case at that time.

...not only had he trained the investigating magistrate in question for nearly three hours on what he considered the best way to convict Scientology, but in addition, he had given her a document of several hundred pages on how to do so, a document which, according to him, has not left the office of the investigating magistrate since and which was the basis for the whole trial currently before the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation).iv

The movement's officials had written to the magistrate in 2004, when the investigation was still in course, to ask if she had attended Palisson's presentation, the statement added: she had not replied.

Now Scientology was arguing that Palisson's posting confirmed what they had long suspected: that the investigating magistrate on the case had used his thesis as a blueprint for the judicial attack on the movement.

If this was indeed the case, the press release argued, then it should have been among the case papers – but it was not. And since that denied the defendants access to a document that would have been crucial to its defence, it put them at an unfair advantage.

Scientology then, was arguing that they had been denied égalité des armes – equality of arms – in their defence, a basic right. It was a point they made repeatedly in court before their dramatic walk-out at the appeal trial last November.v

The Scientology statement argued:

These new revelations add to a long list of attacks on the fundamental rights of the Scientologists in this case, and sheds new light on the repeated interference of the executive powers to influence the magistrates throughout the

Palisson's reply

In a May 8 posting, Palisson answered Scientology's attack point by point.vii

He objected, first of all, to Scientology describing him as “particularly hostile” to their movement, pointing out that in the conclusion to his thesis – on page 521 to be precise – he had acknowledged that Scientology was perfectly entitled to describe itself as a religion.

That did not however exclude the possibility that it was also a cult, he added in the same passage.viii

Summing up his position in his blog, he wrote: “...I believe that you have the right to think what you want …; but you don't have the right to do what you want, individual freedom stopping where the rights of others begins.”ix

Palisson also objected that he did not, as the Scientology statement suggested, lecture the investigating magistrate in question at the ENM: she had stayed away precisely in order to avoid any suggestion of partiality, he explained.x

Nor, he added, was his three-hour presentation about how best to get a conviction against Scientology: it highlighted the procedural difficulties involved in bringing a case against them. (Nuance, as they say over here.)

He did not personally give copies of his thesis to the investigating magistrates, as the Scientology statement suggested: he emailed copies of his thesis to various people but not to them – nor had he ever met the magistrates concerned, he added.

That is not to say they did not see his work, but in any case, he argued, his thesis has been freely available since 2002: not just in the university library of Cergy-Pontoise, where he studied for his doctorate, but online.

Palisson also dismissed the idea that somehow Scientology's rights as a defendant in the case had been undermined because they had not been given access to his thesis in the case files.

Who are they kidding?” he asked.

It is precisely because my thesis was available in its entirety on the Internet from November 2002 that Scientology's lawyers in this case put pressure on the interior ministry cabinet in a vain attempt to get it taken out of circulation.”

In November 2002, one of the movement's lawyers also wrote a seven-page letter to the education ministry in a bid to try to get him stripped of his doctorate, in which he cited the thesis; Danièle Gounord, then the main spokesperson for Scientology in France, was able to draw up an 11-page attack on his work.xi

The idea that an investigating magistrate should not have access to a document in the public domain – and that such a document should have been added to the case papers, does not bear close scrutiny, Palisson argued.

Between 1998 and 2008 – when the case was finally recommended for trial – four investigating magistrates investigated the case against Scientology and the individual defendants, noted Palisson: he had lectured to none of them during his visits to the ENM.

And while he was happy to take credit for having provided guidelines on how to approach a case involving Scientology, it was not as if their work slavishly followed his approach, he added.

The indictment did focus on the fraudulently pseudo-scientific presentation of the personality test used to pull in new recruits, following the reasoning in his thesis.xii

They had taken a different line however to the one he recommended for the Purification Rundown, a programme of aerobic exercise, long sessions in saunas and high doses of vitamins devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

He had argued in his thesis that this was a clear case of the illegal practice of medicine: but the charges actually brought against several defendants related to the illegal practice of pharmacy (though that did not prevent one expert witness from describing the process as quackery).xiii

If his writings had had any influence, said Palisson, it was to map out the general strategy in approaching such cases, not the precise tactics.

For Scientology to suggest that his thesis, rather than the years of work by successive investigating magistrates, formed the core of the case against in the 2009 trial, was giving him too much credit, he argued.

Even if one or more of the magistrates had read his thesis, that did not mean they had taken it as gospel: they were highly trained jurists capable of drawing their own conclusions.

In short, to claim that I have indoctrinated the investigating magistrate is quite simply grotesque.”

This latest attempt to derail the Paris convictions fits perfectly with Scientology's long-held line: that forces at the heart of government have conspired to interfere with the judicial process to ensure that Scientology was found guilty.

And a careful review of the different stages of their campaign reveals the radical degree to which their ideology has shaped their perception of every development in the case: of which more in the following post.


i On November 13, 2002, his thesis got coverage in the French daily Le Figaro in an article by Christophe Cornevin and the same month was published online by Roger Gonnet, a former Scientologist turned critic of the movement, at his website (you can also find his thesis here). Years later Gonnet was to be a key witness at the Paris trial. See my account elsewhere at this site: “The Apostate, Gonnet”, parts one and two.
Although RG were actually part of the police service, as the title suggests, they worked on the intelligence side.
Palisson has explained to me that while he had the status of a police officer his functions were as an intelligence officerRenseignements Généraux, where Palisson worked, have since been merged with another unit to form the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, DCRI), still within the interior ministry.
ii You can read his February 7 posting here; and in English here, thanks to mnql1 at Why We Protest.
Scientology also tried to have him stripped of his doctorate, but they got nowhere on that count, France's academic institutions apparently being made of stronger stuff than its civil service.
iiiManifestation de 200 scientologues devant l'Ecole Nationale de la Magistrature” (“Demonstration of 200 Scientologists in front of the National Magistrates' School”) Palisson puts the figure at around 80: judge for yourself from the photo at the top of the press release, but for me, Palisson's assessment looks closer the mark.
v See “The Big Walk-Out” from earlier coverage of the appeal trial at this site. 
viThe press release, by the way, was written by Eric Roux, who while not one of the individual defendants, spoke in court for one of the Scientology organisations tried and eventually convicted: the Paris Celebrity Centre. His blog is a good way of keeping track of the official Scientology line in France:
viiUn vice de procédure via ce blogue ? L’Église de scientologie parisienne aura vraiment tout essayé…” “A Procedural error via this blog? The Church of Scientology really has tried everything”: again, for the English version, we have mnql1 at Why We Protest to thank.
viii The relevant passage is on part two of the downloadable version of his thesis. Palisson also points out that Scientology was perfectly aware that he had acknowledged their religious status, as they had cited this passage in their 2002 letter to the education ministry trying to get them to strip him of his doctorate (see near the top of page two).
ix This is reminiscent of the position adopted by Senator Nick Xenophon in the speech that opened his campaign against Scientology excesses in Australia: “Ultimately, this is not about religious freedom. In Australia there are no limits on what you can believe. But there are limits on how you can behave. It is called the law, and no-one is above it.”
Xenophon's position was a little ambiguous however, having suggested earlier in his speech to Senate that he was not prepared to accept Scientology as a religion.
“Scientology is not a religious organisation,” he argued. “It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs. What you believe does not mean you are not accountable for how you behave.”
See my opening coverage of developments in Australia: “
Australian Senator attacks 'criminal' Scientology”.
x Palisson explained that he had heard about the absence of the investigating magistrate from his training session - and her reasons - from a colleague at the justice ministry. My thanks to him for clearing up this point as well as several others.
xi Palisson has posted Gounord's attack on his thesis; the lawyer's letter to the education ministry cited earlier; and a detailed reply to these attacks, (there's a more easily readable version of the document here). Gounord, according to this document, was citing Palisson's thesis from May 2003. Although the riposte to Gounord et al. refers to Palisson in the third person, he has confirmed to me that he did in fact write it: "I wanted to avoid 20 pages of 'I, I, I, I, I," he explained.
xii While accepting his general point here, these strike me as differences of tactics, not of strategy – and Palisson acknowledges as much in the closing remarks of his May 8 post.
Palisson argued in his thesis that the courts needed to prosecute not just individuals members, however senior, but the movement as an organisation, 
une personne morale. Scientology's attempts to minimise the past convictions of individual executives by characterising them as the excesses of a few misguided individuals did not stand up to scrutiny he argued. For one thing, the highly centralised and regimented nature of the movement made it impossible that their methods would go unnoticed by the hierarchy; but more importantly, the roots of the movement's illegal activities could be found in movement's core texts.
Since the offences committed by Scientologists in the course of their duties could be traced back to injunctions in the movement's teachings it followed that the organisation itself should be prosecuted – not just the individuals involved. And that is precisely what happened at the 2009 Paris trial. 
xiii Palisson's argument for applying the law regarding the illegal exercise of medicine regarding the Purification Rundown, takes up the first part of his thesis (from page 45). For the views of two experts from France's health products watchdog l'Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des produits de santé (the French Agency for the Safety of Health Products) on the Rundown at the original trial see my earlier coverage: “The Purification Rundown”.