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 status.vi
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...
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.
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.
vii “L’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 lois” by 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 miracle” for 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.
xii “Notons 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).