Scientology Crime Syndicate




PARIS, Sept 8 (AFP) - France on Wednesday pledged a full inquiry into the destruction of prosecution evidence against the Church of Scientology, the second time in less than a year that scientology trial documents have gone astray.

"I want the whole truth", said Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou after an official government panel expressed concern that scientologists may have infiltrated the French administration.

"Was it an error? Was it sabotage?" she asked when speaking to reporters about the incident. "It seems a priori to have been an error .. But I want full light shed."

In the southern port city of Marseille, where the documents were stored ahead of a trial of seven scientologists scheduled to begin on September 20, the prosecutor's office said the files had been destroyed by mistake during a routine clean-out in the court clerk's office.

It denied the documents were done away with "voluntarily and with malicious intent" and said the trial could go ahead as scheduled as none of the missing material was key evidence to the prosecution case against scientologists accused of fraud, illegal exercise of medicine and bodily harm.

"The case is ready and is complete. There's no reason to delay the trial," deputy prosecutor Yves Le Baut told AFP. He could not say when or how the documents were destroyed, simply that "a certain number of boxes" were involved.

Seven scientology officials who operated in Nice and in Marseille are to face charges -- notably of fraudulent business practises -- following complaints filed almost 10 years ago by followers.

These included a French businessman, Raymond Scapillato, who fell seriously ill after attending a scientology course.

The religion, whose members include actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise, promises spiritual advancement and self-therapy through cures and devices inspired by the writings of late science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, who spelt out principles that he called scientology and dianetics.

Guigou said she was also awaiting the results of an internal probe into the disappearance at the Paris courthouse last October of another set of documents concerning a separate case against the church. "Light will be shed on both cases," she pledged.

A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, Danielle Gounord, said the organisation had nothing to with the missing documents.

"I'm as surprised as you are," Gounord told AFP, adding that the charges facing the seven was "a local-level aberration" that "has nothing to do with the general way the Church of Scientology operates."

But France's inter-ministerial committee against sects -- scientologists are considered to be part of a sect in France -- said in a statement that it was "stupefied" by the destruction of the documents.

"The question arises again of knowing whether certain state offices have been infiltrated by sectarian groups. There must be no delay in answering this question." it said in a written statement.

The deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Socialist member Raymond Forni, also suggested a conspiracy was at work.

"I don't believe for a minute that they were destroyed accidentally," he said.

France, along with Germany, has come under repeated attack in the United States for classifying the Church of Scientology as a sect.

Established in Los Angeles in 1954, the wealthy organisation claims eight million members worldwide, with an estimated 30,000 followers in France.

This year, the Russian secret service stepped up surveillance of the church amid suspicion it was violating basic rights of members, using violence if need be, and engaging in illicit financial business.

And German federal and state interior ministers late last year decided to maintain an almost two-year watch on the church, which they view as a subversive organization.

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