Thursday, 24 May 2012

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”.


  1. Thank you Jonny, for a well-reasoned and detailed article on the complexities of this sinister cult's entanglement with the French judicial system.

    It's a refreshing change from the more usual 'sound-bite' journalism exposing the Scientology organization's machinations.

    Not that there's anything wrong with popularism, but there are times when L Ron Hubbard's dictates, which still govern the cult's behavior within the legal and administrative structure of the European countries they operate in needs an intellectual dissection.

    And your blog is one of the few vehicles performing this vital function.

  2. TheHoleDoesNotExist17 October 2013 22:24

    Excellent, even if I am a bit late in reading.