Friday, 10 July 2009

11 Defendant #4 The Celebrity Centre President I

Day 5 (June 3): Between tears and anger, the former president of Scientology’s Paris Celebrity Centre denounced what she called the persecution of her church – and her own harassment by critics of the movement.

The day after Alain Rosenberg had spent several hours on the stand, Judge Château called Sabine Jacquart to testify.

Jacquart, 44, had been president of the Celebrity Centre between September 1997 and October 1999. She faced charges of organised fraud and the illegal exercise of pharmacy.

Just as with Rosenberg the previous day, her questioning turned into a marathon session, as the judge went over much the same ground in as much detail as she could.

And just as it had been with Rosenberg, there were moments of drama, particularly during the more hostile questioning from the prosecution and the lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Jacquart’s testimony moved from tears, to defiance and angry outbursts: and it included more than one passionate denunciation of the persecution she felt that she and her church were suffering.

As president of the Centre at the time of the events in question, Jacquart was held partly responsible for the frauds allegedly committed against Aude-Claire Malton, Eric Aubry and Parangorn, the company run by Pierre Auffret.

The indictment had noted that she had first been questioned, “not without difficulty”, as a witness in May 2002.

At that time, while confirming her position as president of the Celebrity Centre, she had refused to say anything else. Charges were brought against her the following summer and she was brought in for further questioning in July 2003.

On that occasion, she had told investigators that during her term as president she had not actually run the association. Every person knew what they had to do and took responsibility for their tasks without having to receive instructions from anyone else, she said.

She knew little or nothing about the association’s financial transactions, she said.

Standing in the courtroom six years on, Jacquart – petite, pretty and well-dressed – initially seemed at a loss as to what to say when invited to speak by Judge Château.

She had of course heard the accusations that had been made in court, she said – and she contested them. “I am just waiting for you to put questions.”

Encouraged by the judge however, she started to speak.

Her role as president of the Celebrity Centre had been to represent it and to handle any staff problems that might arise. It had not been that of a director with the final say in matters: there was a council of administration for that, she said.

“I never took any decision…” she said. “The only thing was to ensure that the statutes were respected.”

But she knew what was happening at the Centre, said Judge Château.

Not everything, said Jacquart. There were between 120 and 130 active members using the centre, she explained, “So I couldn’t be aware of everyone.”

And what about financial matters, asked the judge?

“There was a treasurer for that…” said Jacquart. “I wasn’t competent for that.”

Judge Château asked her about a period when the Celebrity Centre, L'Association spirituelle de l'Eglise de Scientologie (ASES), had shared the banking facilities of the bookshop Scientologie espace librairie (SEL): they had let them use their bank card machine and cheque facilities.

This appeared to undermine the defendants’ insistence that these were two entirely separate operations – and that was a key point given that both the Celebrity Centre and the SEL bookshop were also on trial for organised fraud.

Jacquart explained that this collaboration between the two organisations had arisen at a time when the Celebrity Centre had been unable to get a French bank to give them such facilities.

“The association (Celebrity Centre) couldn’t open accounts in France so at a certain moment we found ourselves looking for a bank account,” she said.

“We found it impossible to use bank cards for the association (and) that created a real problem because most of our clients paid by bank card, so we asked SEL if they could help us and that is what happened.”

That had been a temporary arrangement with the bookshop until the problem was resolved, she stressed: for while the two organisations shared the aim of promoting the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, that was where their association ended.

“I have nothing to do with SEL [the bookshop],” she said.

'M. Aubry was very demanding'

The problem here, however, was that some of the bills that her co-defendant Michaux had issued to Eric Aubry (one of the initial plaintiffs) appeared in the accounts of both the Celebrity Centre and the bookshop, said the judge. (Co-defendant Didier Michaux had been the bookshop’s star salesman at the time of the events in question. He had not worked for the Celebrity Centre.)

“How do explain this?” asked Judge Château.

“M. Aubry didn’t want to see anyone but M. Michaux, which was a problem. But when a parishioner asks for one person and one person alone, I don’t see how you can say no,” said Jacquart.

“M. Aubry was very demanding,” she added. He only ever wanted to see Michaux. “I dealt with him one or two times and it was always like that: ‘M. Michaux, M. Michaux.’”

Judge Château turned to the use of the personal bank accounts of some of the Scientologists. Investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin had stated that large sums of money had passed between the personal accounts of Celebrity Centre staff.

“We have the impression that your (personal) accounts are used like a bank,” said the judge.

Jacquart said that while her personal accounts were for her own use, her husband worked for a dance school, which was why there were two names on that account.

“My accounts are being audited, so you can see that there was no bank movement that cannot be accounted for.”

Judge Château pointed out that she had had plenty of time to do this earlier.

When she asked about the money that was sent abroad, Jacquart explained that this was payment for goods and services from the US.

“The Mother Church comes from time to time,” she said, to help sort out problems. The Celebrity Centre also had to pay for the hiring of the films they needed for training purposes.

She could not give an exact figure, but it was something like two percent of their income, she said.

“And the rest?” asked the judge. That went on paying the various bills, from the rent to the electricity and taxes.

In her 20 years as a Scientologist and a staff member, said Jacquart, she had made between 20 and 100 euros a week. She did not need to earn more because her husband worked as a music teacher.

Now Judge Château turned to the personality tests, and just as fellow defendant Alain Rosenberg had done the previous day, Jacquart seemed to minimise their importance.

Newcomers could do the test at reception and more experienced Scientologists could choose to take it after having a major step in their training, said Jacquart. “It is not the most important thing,” she added.

In her 20 years as a Scientologist, most of the people she knew had come to the movement via family or friends. “They don’t come via the personality test.”

So why bother with it, asked the judge? “That is a lot of paperwork for something that isn’t very important.”

Yes, said Jacquart: “That is why we have it on the Internet now: it is much more convenient.”

The idea of the test, she added, was to show people that they could improve their lives if they wanted to.

'All I have heard is insults'

Her fellow defendants, the salesmen Didier Michaux and Jean-François Valli, had said the test was a way of checking one’s spiritual progress, the judge reminded her.

“If people take such care to do it so many times, it is a bit contradictory to say it is useless,” she added.

“We use it doing our programmes in Scientology,” said Jacquart. When a Scientologist did the test, nobody used it to try to tell them what they should do. “I do the test, and if I have made progress, that is all!” she added.

And what about interpreting the results, asked Judge Château?

“That will be someone who knows the programme,” said Jacquart.

And the manual used for that purpose, asked the judge?

“I don’t take care of that.”

“So you never evaluated other people’s tests?” asked the judge. Never, said Jacquart.

“So you never evaluated Mme Malton’s test?” No, she replied.

Because Mme Malton had spoken of a Sabine, said the judge.

Aude-Claire Malton, one of only two remaining plaintiffs, had told investigators that somebody called Sabine had interpreted her personality test for her. In court however, she had not identified Jacquart as the person responsible.

“I’m still wondering about the importance of these tests,” the judge continued, “because it’s a bit contradictory.”

“Some people do the test for fun and then they leave,” said Jacquart.

“And for those who do not leave?” asked the judge.

“The test evaluator only gives the test result, that is all,” said Jacquart.

But what about the positive and negative points the results revealed, asked the judge? Were they not used to orientate people one way or another?

Jacquart was beginning to feel the pressure.

“When I first arrived in Scientology, my aim was to find a philosophy… that imposed nothing on me… because I can’t stand that,” she said, becoming emotional.

One of the first courses she had done was on Personal Integrity, she continued, where she had learnt that “What is true is what is true for you,” she said. By now she was in tears.

“I am sorry, but I am shocked,” she said.

“For a week all I have heard is insults and inappropriate comments about my religion,” she said.

She had been a Scientologist for 20 years and now she was being harassed in the street, she continued. (The day before the judge had referred to a letter from her lawyer in which he complained that Jacquart had been harassed by an anti-Scientology protestor.)

When the investigation had started, said Jacquart, the police had left her for two hours handcuffed in a cell.

“That is 20 years I am an active member of Scientology and I tell you it is not for the money,” she continued. “If you love people you don’t force people to do things,” she said.

Judge Château gave her a moment then asked her to calm down.

“I am not annoyed, I’m just disturbed,” said Jacquart, recovering.

“On top of that I am harassed outside the courtroom,” she said. “This person, it is not the first time he had done this,” she added, referring to one of the protesters attending the trial.

Judge Château made it clear that she did not approve of anything that might have happened outside the court, but said it was important that things remained calm during the proceedings. “Let’s not mix things up,” she said.

“If things happened outside then file a complaint, but try to stay calm,” she added.

'The tests had nothing to do with me'

The judge returned to the question of the tests.

Aude-Claire Malton had said that having had her personality test, she was shown the positive and negative points and was encouraged to take a communications course. So how could one say the test was of no importance, asked the judge?

Jacquart started by sticking to her own experience. “I didn’t come via tests. It was a friend of mine who introduced me to Scientology,” she said.

But then, referring to Malton, she added: “(If) I put myself in her place, perhaps if she had a real communication problem, she obviously wanted to resolve something in her life.”

But Scientology’s books required work, she added: they were not like a novel.

The judge took her back to the personality test.

Just as she had with Jacquart’s fellow defendant Rosenberg a day earlier, Judge Château referred to Hubbard’s own writings.

Hubbard, she pointed out, had himself underlined the importance of the test as the first point of contact with the public, a way of communicating, of making people come into Scientology organisations. And he had made it clear there was a procedure to follow.

“It is always the same,” protest Jacquart – as Rosenberg had done before her. “It is a directive from the 1960s… I wasn’t even born then.”1

“But there are a lot of writings that are very old,” said the judge.

“I don’t know this document myself,” said Jacquart.

“You are president of the association and you don’t know anything about that?” said the judge.

Jacquart pointed out that there Hubbard had written some 3,000 pages of directives – and not all of them had been translated into French.

Judge Château continued setting out Hubbard’s account of the test: the Scientologist should insist on evaluating the test for newcomers, wrote Hubbard; they should tell them that Scientology could help with their problem.

“Are these not general recommendations?” asked the judge.

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart. “I can’t speak on this. This had nothing to do with my duties.” She had been responsible for the statutes of the association, she said. “The tests had nothing to do with me.”

'We don’t make everyone pay in advance'

Judge Château turned to the question of the prices for the course – or donations, as some of the Scientologists had described them. How did the pricing system work?

“The prices weren’t put on the wall but all the prices were available to Scientologists, in the shops and on the computers,” said Jacquart.

And the Centre’s cafés, Scientologists could leaf through the magazines available and find the prices there, she said.

So why had the court been unable to get a magazine with the prices for 1998, asked the judge?

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart.

Judge Château asked if staffers tried to find out about people’s income. No, said Jacquart.

“You never ask for people’s wage slips?” asked the judge.

“No,” said Jacquart. “That has nothing to do with us.”

And what about the practice of paying for courses years in advance, asked the judge? This practice had got a lot of people into debt, she said, “when you say you are there to bring happiness and serenity to people. How do you explain this contradiction?”

“We don’t make everyone pay in advance,” said Jacquart. “The person looks and then chooses the formula they want.”

And what about the loans at 10 percent interest, asked the judge, referring to the loan taken out by the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton and the SOFINCO Bank?

“That is the choice of each person,” said Jacquart. “I suppose at SOFINCO it works like that.”

Malton had been told that the prices were going to change and that she had to pay before Thursday, the judge recalled “Do you think that is normal?”

“Mme Malton is someone I saw very little of – I would like to be able to answer you,” said Jacquart. “I had other things to worry about,” she added.

Judge Château said she was perplexed by the different prices quoted to plaintiffs, which seemed to indicate that different people paid different amounts. And so far as paying in advance was concerned, Malton’s case was not an isolated one, she added.

“We saw there were enormous amounts of things paid for in advance,” said the judge. And when clients paid in instalments for the e-meter devices used in Scientology’s auditing sessions, they were only ever delivered when final instalment had been made.

The prices were calculated in the computer, said Jacquart “ – to which everyone can have access, because we have nothing to hide.”

Judge Château turned to the question of Malton having accepted a job with Scientology soon after having taken out the loan to buy for courses well in advance.

Someone at the Centre appeared to have prepared Malton a detailed list of things she needed to do: quit her existing job; move out of her apartment into one nearer the centre; cash in her life insurance etc. What did Jacquart know about this, asked the judge?

“This wasn’t written by me,” said Jacquart. “I didn’t know about this. I will explain. Mme Malton, I met her once – that is why she didn’t recognise me [in court].”

Jacquart had been looking for someone to help look after the Celebrity Centre premises She had heard that Aude-Claire Malton worked in the hotel business and so they met in a café so she could explain what the job entailed.

“At that moment, she seemed happy,” said Jacquart: “I had a good memory of my communication with Mme Malton.”

What does it take to get a refund?

But Judge Château went back to what appeared to be contradiction in Mme Malton having taken out a high-interest loan to pay 110,000 francs (16,700 euros) in advance for courses.

If she was going to become a staffer, surely these courses would have been available to her for free, asked the judge?

“She could ask for us to study the question if she wanted to get some of it back,” said Jacquart. But the question had never arisen because she had quit Scientology shortly afterwards, she added.

Judge Château questioned her more closely, and when Jacquart began to speak of gifts, or donations, to Scientology, as Rosenberg had done a day earlier, she picked her up on it.

This was not how the plaintiffs had described it, said the judge.

Even Pierre Auffret who had insisted he had no complaints about Scientology, had spoken of payments rather than donations.

Jacquart bristled at the mention of Auffret.

“M. Auffret used the money of his company,” said Jacquart contemptuously, referring to the fact that he had plundered his company’s accounts to pay for his training. “M. Auffret is M. Auffret: we are not going to mix everything up,” she added.

How many people had been in such a situation: where they had joined staff having already paid substantial sums of money for courses that would now, given their staff status, be free, asked the judge? Jacquart didn’t know.

Judge Château said that from what she had heard already during the trial, it seemed that while you could get a refund if you really wanted your money back – the penalty was that you could never do Scientology courses again.

“So one has the impression that you only do this [get a refund] if you leave definitively. It doesn’t look automatic to me.”

That put someone like Mme Malton in a difficult position: since she was joining staff she might want the money she had paid – for what were now free courses – refunded. But she could not get the refund without being excluded from Scientology courses.

No, said Jacquart: nothing was 100 percent. “Each case is different. If someone wants a refund then they are refunded,” she said.

She pointed to the example of Eric Aubry, one of the original plaintiffs who had withdrawn from the case once he had reached a settlement with Scientology. He had got a partial refund, she said.

And what about the letter he had written denouncing the harassment he had suffered in Scientology, asked the judge? As president, what had she known about that?

“When M. Aubry wrote that he was very angry, that is the least one can say,” said Jacquart.

“But he was angry not just with Scientology but with everything: with his family with the world… and there are people in the Church of Scientology who handle these kinds of things,” she added.

When she saw the letter she had sent it directly to one such person to be handled “and I never heard anything more of it,” she said.

“He does raise a certain number of points in this letter,” said the judge.

“He was very angry,” said Jacquart. But one needed to put things in perspective. “M. Aubry was somebody who was not very stable, and when he got angry…”

“He was denouncing very specific points,” said the judge.

“I understand,” said Jacquart. But after having seen the chaplain he could have maintained his demand for a refund and he didn’t, she said. “Why did he keep coming for auditing?” she asked.

“When he saw the chaplain he went back on what he had said. If he had maintained his position he would have had his money,” she added.

'We are not a commercial business…'

Judge Château put the same question she had put to Rosenberg about Aubry’s complaint that he had been questioned about his income during his auditing. Was that what had happened, she asked Jacquart?

“Absolutely not,” she replied. “If he spoke about money during auditing, that would be something else.” But those kinds of matters were not asked during an auditing session unless the subject himself raised them.

And what about Aubry’s complaint that after a lengthy auditing session, when it was late and he was tired, they would suggest he talk about buying more courses, asked the judge?

Jacquart confirmed that auditing sessions could last several hours, but an important stipulation of the Auditors Code was that people should be eaten and rested well before entering a session.2

“Is there are code to say you don’t ask people to buy courses after an auditing session?” asked the judge?

“There isn’t a code that specifies that particularly,” said Jacquart. “But people know they can’t keep a person who has just come of an auditing session late because they are going to have to be audited the next day.”

How then did she explain Aude-Claire Malton’s experience, who had said that after coming out of auditing sessions she had been pressured to buy more courses, asked the judge?

“I don’t know,” said Jacquart. “I wasn’t there.”

Judge Château turned to the question of the follow-up letters to be people who had stopped taking courses. How did the system work, she asked?

They did not have a follow-up system for parishioners, said Jacquart.

“A very important thing for us as Scientologists is to communicate, so if someone writes to someone, it is to have their news, to see if they are happy. We are not a commercial business trying to follow up leads,” she added.

So how did the system work, Judge Château asked again?

If someone knew somebody, then they would write to them, said Jacquart.

“M. Aubry says he received letters from people who didn’t know him,” said the judge. “Some he knew, but others not.” And then there were the phone calls he had received at work, she added.

“No,” said Jacquart. “You don’t call people at work.”

Were there any recommendations in Scientology on the matter, asked the judge?

“No, there are no instructions on that,” said Jacquart. “But if I want to call a parishioner then I call, if it is just by affinity… but that is all.”

Judge Château turned to the e-meters, which some Scientologists had been sold without actually needing them for the courses they were doing. Some even possessed two machines.

“Personally, I have an e-meter which I haven’t used,” said Jacquart. “I haven’t done the training,” she said. But if one was going to train in auditing, you needed to have your own e-meter, she said, describing it as a “religious instrument”.

But why did people by their e-meters so far in advance of actually needing them, asked the judge? And why did those people who paid for them in instalments have to wait until the full sum had been paid before receiving them?

Jacquart did not seem to know.

Next in this series: 11 Defendant #4 The President I
1   As I mentioned in the first post covering Rosenberg's testimony a day earlier, the only 1960 document that fits the bill is the Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter October 28, 1960: New Testing Promotion Section. Former Scientologist Roger Gonnet, now arguably the most effective campaigner against the movement in France, has confirmed to me that this is one of the documents he sent to the investigating magistrate.
The bulletin’s opening sentence corresponds to the summary Judge Château gave, both to Jacquart and to Rosenberg the previous day: “For some time Orgs have used testing as a promotional means. It has been found that this is a good, reliable method of getting people to come in.”

2   This is perfectly true: Scientology’s Auditors Code requires that the subject be well rested and not hungry when entering session. But the judge’s question had referred to what happened after the session, not before.

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