Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Home Straight

France's top court is about to rule on Scientology's appeal against convictions for organised fraud. Here is how the Court of Appeal left matters in 2012.

On Wednesday, France's highest court will hand down its judgment in Scientology's appeal against last year's appeal court convictions for organised fraud.

The criminal chamber of the Cour de Cassation can choose to let the appeal court judgment stand, or it can quash some or all of the convictions.

If it quashes the convictions it will likely send the case back to the lower courts for a fresh trial.

If it lets the convictions stand, it is a racing certainty that Scientology will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, since they will have exhausted all legal avenues in France.

The court is due to hand down its judgment at 2:00 pm Paris time (1200 GMT).1

Back in February 2, 2012, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the 2009 convictions of five Scientologists on charges ranging from fraud to the illegal exercise of pharmacy.2 The defendants received fines and in some cases suspended sentences.

More significantly however, two Scientology organisations were convicted of organised fraud. The Celebrity Centre Paris, was ordered to pay 400,000 euros; SEL, the movement's network of bookshops in France, was fined 200,000 euros.

The fraud convictions were centred around the use of a personality test to recruit new members, a test which the indictment had said was “devoid of any scientific value”. Both the Tribunal de Grande Instance in 2009 and the Cour d'Appel in 2012 agreed.

The convictions for the illegal exercise of pharmacy were linked to the massive doses of vitamins used in the Purification Rundown, a procedure devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The original court ruling had reached its conclusions in part on the basis of the evidence presented by the plaintiffs and expert witnesses.

But it also quoted extensively from Scientology's own literature, including documents written by Hubbard and his lieutenants setting out the movement's hard-sell tactics in detail.3

The appeal court agreed with the original court's analysis of the case in nearly every respect.

It noted that the Celebrity Centre and the SEL network of bookshops were implicated in the distribution and marketing of the personality test as a marketing tool.

They were behind the relentless hard-sell tactics employed by its sales staff: “offensive commercial practices” which amounted to harassment,it said.4

The appeal court noted the large profit mark-ups investigators had discovered for goods sold by Scientology's SEL network of bookshops.

It remarked on the close links between the for-profit SEL bookshops and the supposedly non-profit Celebrity Centre; and the large sums of money moving between the two organisations.

While that the personality test used to recruit members was described as "founded on scientific research" it was not, in fact, recognised by the scientific community, the court observed – and in any case, it added, Scientology had “no particular competence” in this field.5

The printed personality test made no direct mention of Scientology: the court did not think the mention of a Dianetics centre was enough to alert most people to the Scientology connection.6

All three of the plaintiffs had taken the test: and all three had come away with “extremely negative” results – “ruins” in Scientology's terminology. Then they were offered Scientology courses to resolve these problems.

Then, later on during their passage through Scientology, two out of the three had taken the test again; and again received negative results, putting them under further pressure to spend more money on courses.

The appeal court judgment described how the plaintiffs had been induced to spend large sums of money over a short period of time for Scientology goods and services. Such was the pressure they were subjected to, they sometimes paid up for courses several years in advance.

Under this kind of harassment, the judgment noted, the plaintiffs ended up heavily in debt.

The convictions for illegal practice of pharmacy were based on the massive doses of vitamins and minerals handed out to participants in the Purification Rundown.

Court-appointed experts had told the court that taken in such quantities, the vitamins were effectively being used as medicines.

The National Council of the Order of Pharmacists agreed, which is why they were represented in court as plaintiffs. Their position was that unqualified people had strayed into a field in which they had no business operating.

When the appeal court handed down its judgment in February last year, neither the defendants nor their lawyers were in court: they had walked out of the trial half-way through protesting that they were not getting fair hearing.

Last month, they got their hearing at the country's top court, the Cour de Cassation. On Wednesday they will get their answer.

For details of last month's arguments at the Cour de Cassation see this four-part series:
  1. How We Got There;
  2. An Impossible Defence;
  3. Defending the Rundown;
  4. Une Entreprise Crapuleuse
1   I'll post initial coverage at Tony Ortega's Underground Bunker, with a more detailed round-up here later in the day.
2   The appeal court even increased the sentences against two of the defendants convicted of the illegal practice of pharmacy. A sixth person, fined 1,000 euros for the illegal exercises of pharmacy by the original court judgment, did not turn up at the appeal trial, nor was she represented. The original sentence against her was therefore confirmed by default.
3   For more details, see the first of last week's write-ups from the Cour de Cassation, “How We Got Here”. For an even more complete write-up, see “Reviewing the Paris Judgment”, from October 2011.
4   Page 26 of the appeal court ruling.
5   Page 25 of the appeal court judgment: the court was able to reach these conclusions despite the fact that experts reports on the personality test had to be ruled inadmissable on a technicality.
6   Page 25 of the appeal court judgment.


  1. chuckbeattyexseaorg75to0316 October 2013 at 03:25

    Excellent summary, thankyou Jonny.

  2. Andrew Robertson16 October 2013 at 05:44

    A great write up, Jonny! Looking forward impatiently to your summary of the Court's judgement tomorrow.


  3. Thank you, Jonny! Can't wait to get the decision and read your next article!