Tuesday 18 October 2011

Reviewing the Paris Judgment

Even if the sentences in the 2009 Paris trial of Scientology have been widely reported, the court’s supporting arguments received less attention. With the appeal starting next month, now is a good time to review the judgment.[1]

Next month a Paris court will begin hearing the appeal against the 2009 convictions of the Church of Scientology for organised fraud.

The judgment and the sentences against the movement were hailed as a victory by many of the movement’s critics at the time.[2]

In court however, the broadest smiles were on the faces of the defence lawyers representing Celebrity Centre (Association Spirituelle de l’Eglise de Scientologie CC) and Scientology’s network of bookshops in France (Scientologie Espace Librairie).

It was already common knowledge that the “nuclear option” of dissolution recommended by the prosecution in its final pleading in June was not in fact available to the court.[3] The law in question had itself been “dissolved” just two weeks before the May 25 start of the trial – unintentionally, the government insisted.

But while the timing of that change provoked more than a few raised eyebrows, no one has been able to show that this was more than just a cock-up, rather than some kind of a conspiracy – a clerical error rather than deliberate sabotage.[4]

The amendment in question has now been reversed and so the option will be available in any future trials.[5] But the decision handed down by the court suggests that it would not in any case have followed the prosecution line against Scientology, even had it been an option.

President of the Tribunal Sophie-Hélène Château and her two Judge Assessors, Hélène Sottet and Josée Grouman, could still have ordered a restriction of the two organisation’s activities in France. They chose not to do this.

The convictions and sentences they did hand down nevertheless sent a strong message. For by convicting the two Scientology organisations – and not just the six individuals in the dock – they made it clear that they did not consider the offences the actions of a few rogue elements.

The fines of 400,000 euros levied against the supposedly non-profit Celebrity Centre (ASES) and 200,000 euros against the Paris bookshop (SEL) could not be dismissed as a tap on the wrist. And the court’s assessment of Scientology’s hard-nosed sales methods was unequivocal.

In court and in the judgment itself, Judge Château dismissed as “beyond fanciful” (plus que fantaisiste) attempts by the defendants to translate the English phrase “hard sell” as “taking care of people”.[6]

The court was equally critical of the movement’s personality test, its Purification Rundown and the e-meter used in Scientology counselling.

There was, nevertheless, a tension at the heart of the judgment.

For as much as the court strove to avoid passing judgment on Scientology’s credo, the evidence that led to the convictions included damning extracts from the movement’s own writings. And as any good Scientologist knows, Hubbard’s words are law: their equivalent of sacred scripture.

This strain was evident throughout the judgment, but perhaps most obvious in the case of the personality test. For because of the way the indictment had been drafted it was the test, offered free to passers-by in the street or simply left in letter boxes, that was the key to the convictions.[7]

The personality test

The defence had tried to play down the significance of the test, arguing that it was simply a useful way to check one’s progress rather than an essential recruitment tool.

Not for the first time however, their position was undermined by Scientology’s own texts.

The judgment included extracts from a 1960 policy letter by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard on how to use the personality test to recruit new members – a document the prosecution had quoted during its summing up.

Hubbard had written of the test:

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.

The essence of testing procedure is a) to get the person to do a test and b) get him or her to come in and have it evaluated. From this follows his or her buying processing or training as sold to the person by the PrR [Promotion and Registration] at the same time as the evaluation is done.

…PR personnel on the other hand evaluate tests for sales to get the person to take or buy more processing or training.

…By policy testing is a free service [emphasis in original].


Evaluation of tests should be helpful, wise and very direct. An evaluator should know all HCOBs [Hubbard Communications Office Bulletins] about test evaluation. Remarks that "Scientology can improve this or that characteristic" or "auditing can remedy that" or "Processing can change this" or "Training can stabilize that" should be used repeatedly during the evaluation for the sake of impingement.

A clever evaluator can surmise such things as domestic grief, trouble with possessions, etc much more easily than a fortune teller.

Test evaluation is modern, scientific fortune telling…

… We are in an era of finding and "selling" the "things", the "objects", "the realities" of Scientology.

…We will take full advantage of the superstitions of people at the level of people at the level of prediction.

…With accurate scientific tests and testing we can swing all interest lines in fate and future our way.[8]

Hubbard’s own words then, made it clear that the personality test was rather more than the harmless, take-it-or-leave-it document the defence had made it out to be. And the evidence that the court had heard only reinforced that impression, said the judgment.

What emerges from the testimony of the plaintiffs is that by means of the test analysis, “the recruiter” thus manages without difficulty to show the beginner that a remedy exists to tackle his problem, to restore his vital energy to him.

As quickly as the test subject is shaken up by this dramatic revelation of his state, he is reassured by his handler, who proposes to resolve the situation just as quickly.

Having come to answer a questionnaire, he is straight away audited or given an appointment for courses of that nature, at best leaving with Ron Hubbard’s book [Dianetics].

Thus it is that he makes his first steps in Scientology without really realising it. They give him brochures. They propose to him that he work for the good of mankind and that he himself advance up towards a better life.[9]

Since the personality test was at the heart of the conviction for organised fraud, the same tension ran through the court’s treatment of that offence.

Setting out its reasoning on the guilty verdicts, the judgment was careful to pay due regard to the defence arguments regarding religious freedom.

It acknowledged that under French and European law, people were free to hold whatever religious beliefs they chose. But there were limits, it added:

Thus individuals who use a philosophical or religious doctrine, which is itself lawful, to deliberately deceive other people for financial or commercial ends, are liable to be prosecuted for the crime of fraud.[10]

This did not imply a value judgment on the doctrine concerned: only the legality of the means used, the judgment was careful to add. And it was for the court to decide if the methods used were designed to deceive people.

So it was not the court’s business to assess value of Scientology’s beliefs, but to decide if the methods used, as set out in the present case, had broken the law.

Here again however, the evidence that led to the convictions included extracts from Scientology’s own texts.

“Make Money”

Noting that the Celebrity Centre’s turnover for 1999 was 17 million francs (nearly 2.6 million euros), the judgment quoted a passage from a now-notorious 1972 policy letter by Hubbard.


It also quoted a 1961 policy letter, “Registration”, listing 43 points advising staff members on how to handle newcomers:

2. Be willing at all times to control the new body that’s come into the shop…

9. You must be willing at all times to control each body coming into your office...  until the final stages of signing the cheque…

12. …you can bring in the Unit money without batting [sic?] your brains out, because invariably you can sell them a further service, either now or for future.

37. …Have an invoice book in your office…[12]

The defence had objected to this document, saying it had been written not by Hubbard but by another Scientologist (although it did carry his endorsement).

But the judgment concluded that the tactics set out in 1961 were still being applied in 1998/99. The evidence showed:

…that pressure was put on Scientology’s active members to make payments before Thursday 2:00 pm; that new members were made to pay for training, two, even four years in advance to the point where some of them got into debt; that the association’s weekly figures were sent to international management; that the best “sales” and “recruitment” staff were held up for praise; that all this leads one to think that bringing in the money was far from being a peripheral part of followers’ progress.[13]

Setting out the key elements of the fraud, the judgment referred to the Scientologists’ constant use of personality tests “devoid of any scientific value and analysed with the sole aim of selling various products and services.”

The defendants had exercised “a psychological hold on these followers under the guise of applying the doctrine of Scientology…” when their sole purpose had been to get hold of their money at whatever the cost to the plaintiff, said the judgment.

Again, the judgment quoted a Hubbard policy letter to support its case that the staffers were specifically instructed to find a new member’s weakness – their “ruin” – and exploit it.

4. Once the person is aware of the ruin, you bring about an understanding that Scientology can handle the condition found in 3. This is done by simply stating Scientology can, or by using data to show how it can. It's at the right moment on this step that one hands the person a selection slip, or one's professional card, and directs him to the service that will best handle what he needs handled.[14]

This was just what had happened to the plaintiffs in this case – and the personality test had played a key role in that process, the judgment noted.

The test, it said, was an “indispensable tool” an “essential hook” in the process, because its results inevitably pushed the user to go further into Scientology.

If the test did not do what Scientology said it did then it was part of the fraud, said the judgment: and the test explicitly claimed to have a scientific value it did not have.

To make matters worse, the computer programme used to process the tests had no scientific standing either; and the test was interpreted by Scientologists with no training and no special competence in psychology.

The tests made no mention of Scientology, but only of Dianetics, the judgment added – and that was not the same thing so far as the public was concerned.

And once people were drawn into buying Scientology goods and service, the test would be used again to persuade them to take further courses, it noted.

It was on this basis that the court convicted both the Celebrity Centre and SAL, Scientology’s network of bookshops in France – as well as four individual defendants – of organised fraud.

The E-meter, the Rundown

Because of the way the original indictment had been drafted the court could not include either the e-meter or the Purification Rundown as elements constituting the fraud. It was nevertheless highly critical of the way that Scientology tried to dress them up in both religious and scientific clothing.

The e-meter, or electropsychometer, is a device during Scientology auditing, or counselling sessions, which they say help the auditor, or therapist, locate “zones of distress and spiritual turmoil” in the auditing subject.

Former Scientologist Roger Gonnet, a witness for the plaintiffs, had argued that it was used to find people’s “ruins” – the emotional weak points that could be used to exploit them.[15]

Both the e-meter and the Rundown, the judgment noted, had been described in religious terms by the Scientologists in court.

In Scientology’s literature however, their presentation was “surrounded by pseudo-scientific labels…thus reinforcing in new Scientologists the belief in the scientific character” – a process that had begun with the personality test.

The court had received copies of expert reports submitted in previous trials on the electropsychometer, or e-meter: the device used in Scientology’s counselling, or auditing sessions.

One report from a Swiss case had concluded that while the e-meter might well be a perfectly legitimate device in itself, it was not being used in a scientific manner.[16]

Another, from a 1996 trial in Lyon, dismissed the device as “nothing more than a lure designed to give a scientific aspect to an operation which is anything but.”[17]

At the Paris trial, Scientology’s own expert witnesses had testified to the e-meter’s accuracy as a device to measure electrical resistance. They were not comfortable however with the unscientific claims the movement made about the device, the judgment noted.

Presented with Scientology’s claims that it could somehow measure thoughts – and that, as Hubbard put it, it “utterly dwarfs the invention of the microscope” – they were quick to distance themselves from such hyperbole.[18]

When it came to the Purification Rundown, there was the same blurring of the lines between the scientific and the spiritual, the court noted. For Scientology had tried to give the Purification Rundown a similar scientific veneer to what it nevertheless insisted was a religious practice.

Of the expert reports the court had at its disposal from previous cases one, from a Dr Serge Bornstein likened it to the process of fasting and saw no inherent danger; the other by Dr Jean-Marie Abgrall thought it potentially extremely dangerous.[19]

The Rundown is a process devised by Hubbard combining high doses of vitamins, aerobic exercise and extended sessions in a sauna, supposedly to sweat toxins out of the body and thus aid the person’s spiritual progress.

The use of such vitamins – at least in large quantities, requires prior clearance by the French authorities before being put on the market: and in this case they had been brought in from abroad via a company run by Scientologists.[20]

It was because the manufacture, distribution and sale of the vitamins used for the Rundown were normally reserved for pharmacists, that France’s National of the Order Council of Pharmacists had become a plaintiff in the case.

In court, the issue was whether the high doses of vitamins used constituted the illegal practice of pharmacy.

France’s watchdog France’s health products watchdog, the AFSSAPS, certainly seemed to think it did. Two of its experts testified that the vitamins, used in such large quantities, were not food supplements but medicines.[21]

In the end, the court followed their reasoning, convicting four of the defendants on charges relating to the illegal exercise of pharmacy.[22]

Hard sell, manipulation

This constant switching between the supposed scientific and religious aspects of Scientology produced confusion as to the real nature of the movement, said the judgment: but it also created a strong impression on the psychologically vulnerable.

The court ruled that the hold this gave over its recruits amounted to fraud if it was used simply to get as much money out of them as possible.[23]

Insofar as “happiness had no price”, it was not so much that large sums of money were involved said the judgment – it was the pressure that was applied on recruits to get that money.

Scientology’s sales salesmen were trained in and practised hard-sell techniques and they worked on commission, the judgment noted. The court had heard how clients had been harassed with follow-up letters, even phone calls at work – some of which lasted hours; they were pressured to write success stories at the end of each course saying how much they had benefited; they were pressed to take out loans to pay for the next course; and on occasion they were door-stepped late at night to get them to hand over the cheques the sales staff required. Some salesmen had even managed to get their clients to pay for courses four or five years in advance, the judgment added.

It was clear too from what the court had heard that Scientology’s services were not available for members of the public on a limited income: there was no auditing or Purification Rundown for them. We are not all equal in the eyes of Scientology, the judgment noted: “…it depends on the financial resources of the follower.”[24]

The court was persuaded by the conclusions of the psychiatric expert called to assess the way Scientology/Dianetics had manipulated some of its clients.

Dr Daniel Zagury had interviewed two of the plaintiffs in the case and reported his conclusions in person at the trial. In his view, what had happened had been “in general terms been an abuse of the transfer relationship…”

The sense of dependence that often arises out of the therapeutic relationship is a well known phenomenon in the field of psychotherapy. In these cases however, the process had not been used to help the new recruits become more autonomous, but to make them more dependent on the group and its beliefs, he argued.[25]

Summarising his assessment of one of the plaintiffs, Dr Zagury said that to understand the hold that Scientology had on people, one had to look not at the issue of intelligence or rationality, but at “emotional and relational investment.”[26]

Time and time and again the judgment spoke of the “psychological hold” the movement gained over new recruits; a hold that was used to get as much money out of them as possible.

The trial on appeal is set to run from November 3 to December 1.

[1] Better late than never: I promised readers this more detailed analysis back in late 2009 in my brief summary of the judgment: a few weeks later however Senator Xenophon launched his campaign against the movement’s abuses in Australia, which has kept me busy ever since.
[2] For details of who was convicted of what, see my summary of the judgment.
[3] See the second part of the prosecutor’s speech here.
[4] It was only in September that Georges Fenech, the president of the government’s cult watchdog MIVILUDES, picked up on the change and sounded the alarm. Scientology’s principal defence lawyer, Maître Patrick Maisonneuve, has said he had known about it in June, during the final pleadings, but chose not to say anything that might alert the prosecution lawyers.
Some observers were sceptical, but France’s Le Point magazine (October 27) following up a French television report (France 3, 1900 news, October 22) reports on an email dated July 8, only three weeks after the trial, from William C. Walsh, a US lawyer for Scientology to a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, explaining that the law the prosecutors had cited had been cancelled weeks before the start of the trial (May 25). (The Le Point piece is handily translated at Why We Protest.
Whatever suspicions some observers might have however, this does not establish that the movement’s lawyers came by this information by illicit means – still less that the movement was somehow involved in this change to the law. For more on this affair, written as the story was breaking, see The Great Escape?
[5] The Senate has already reversed the change in the law, but for this case, the legislation as it stood at the start of the trial applies for the pending appeal in this case. As Le Point points out however, the official explanation of a cut-and-paste error is undermined by the fact that the supposedly unintentional change to the text required a rather more sophisticated manoeuvre than a single, accidental key-stroke.
[6] The same passage appears on pages 87 and 88 of the judgment, in the judgments handed down to the Celebrity Centre and the SEL [Scientology Espace Librairie] network of bookshops respectively.
[7] Investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin’s indictment was largely built around the use of the test, which he had argued was a key element in the fraud. But an expert report he commissioned on it had to be ruled out on a technicality after one of the two authors forgot to sign a key document. That meant that much of the trial was centred on the use of the test and its importance in Scientology’s operations.
[8] Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, October 28, 1960: “New Testing Promotion  Section” PrR is the abbreviation of the Department of Promotion and Registration (thanks once again to Caroline Letkeman for the explanation). On pp 42-43 of the judgment.
[9] Page 31 of the judgment.
[10] Page 73 of the judgment.
[11] “Governing Policy”: HCO Policy Letter, 9 March 1972. The same passage appeared in Jean-Christophe Hullin’s indictment. Maître Olivier Morice, Aude-Claire Malton’s lawyer, also quoted the passage during his summing up. It appears on p39 of the judgment.
[12] “Registration”, Hubbard Communications Policy Letter, May 3, 1961. This policy letter, although written by South African Scientologist Sue Van Niekerk, carries a glowing endorsement from Hubbard. These same quotes also appeared in the indictment in this case. Both Morice and the prosecution quoted from the document during the trial. It appears on page 36 of the judgment.
[13] This passage appears on page 48 of the judgment.
[14] “Dissemination Drill”, HCO Policy Letter October 23, 1965.
[15] The judgment also noted that Scientologists were advised to buy two such devices to be sure of always having one on hand that functioned. One former plaintiff had been sold one for 19,798 francs (3,018 euros); another had paid 30,000 francs (4,573 euros) for hers, the judgment noted. It also noted that a 2004 edition of the Scientology magazine L’Eternité advertised another one for sale at 4,847 euros (all from page 45).
[16] From a Swiss study carried out by Messieurs, Offner and Brun: “If the professional Hubbard electrometer is certainly a technological device, which may have been conceived and developed by scientists or in any case by technicians… the expert found a lot of elements that did not justify or could not support the argument of the scientific character of its use”. This passage is quoted on page 45 of the judgment.
[17] This is from the Kirchner report, quoted on page 46 of the judgment. In the Lyon case, a leading Scientologist was convicted of manslaughter (homicide involontaire) for having contributed to the suicide of a Scientologist by having pushed him too hard to take out loans for more courses. A number of other defendants were convicted on fraud-related charges.
[18] Both of Scientology’s experts, Philippe Ripoche and Bernard Denis-Laroque, described the e-meter as a device that accurately measured electrical resistance.
But Ripoche agreed with the judge that the exercise of tracking down people’s trauma was best left to qualified psychologists. And he dismissed as “exaggerated” the more ambitious claims Scientologists made for the e-meter.
He was forced to go further when confronted with a passage from Hubbard’s 1952 Electropsychometric Auditing Operator’s Manual.
It claim that the e-meter “…utterly dwarfs the invention of the microscope…” showing the way “for man to find his freedom and to rise perhaps to social and constructive levels of which man has never dreamed and to avoid the perils in that route which man, in going, would have found more deadly than any bacteria ever evolved or invented.”
What did he think of that, asked Morice, the lawyer for the plaintiffs?
“A far-fetched, ambitious and laughable stream of verbosity,” said Ripoche (une logorrhée fantaisiste, ambitieuse et risible).
Denis-Laroque, the other expert called by Scientology’s lawyers, described the movement’s claims that mental processes had “mass”, or “charge”, that could somehow be picked up on the e-meter as “incomprehensibe” and unscientific.
For more details see, The E-meter Experts, earlier in my coverage.
[19] Dr Bornstein’s report was cited by one of the defendants and presumably submitted by the defence lawyers; Dr. Abgrall’s report was as a court-appointed expert in previous cases. He had testified at both the Lyon and Marseille trials.
[20] The investigating magistrate seemed to think the company was based in the Netherlands and his investigation hit a wall there. In fact, G&G is an English company, based at East Grinstead, the nearest town to Scientology’s Saint Hill base, set up by veteran Scientologists David and Sheila Gaiman (http://www.gandgvitamins.com/gandg-history). Note the reference here to detoxifying Chernobyl victims, a notorious Scientology PR operation (at the bottom of the page).
[21] AFSSAPS: l'Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des produits de santé (the French Agency for the Safety of Health Products).
[22] During the hearing at which the two experts testified, Judge Château had had a large plastic bin bag brought into the court: it contained the remaining powders and pills that one plaintiff had been given for her Purification Rundown. (It had until then been left hanging outside the courtroom window because of its strong smell.)
She recalled one of plaintiffs to describe how she had suffered stomach cramps during the Rundown – and how the packages of vitamins the Scientologists had given her had carried no instructions.
When she called back Stéphane Lange, a senior inspector with the AFSSAPS, to complete his testimony, he abandoned his previously cautious approach.
“Do you want a direct answer? This seems to me to be quackery (charlatanesque).”
For more detailed coverage see my earlier posting: “The Purification Rundown
[23] Pages 88 to 89 of the judgment.
[24] Page 89 of the judgment.
[25] Page 27 of the judgment: see also my coverage of Zagury’s presentation in “The Psychiatrist’s Testimony”.
[26] Page 32 of the judgment.


  1. Thank you. Reading this summarized for me all that is wrong with Scientology.

  2. Thanks, Jonny. This is extremely helpful.