Belgium and Scientology


The Living Force
Since 2007, Belgium has had legal issues with the Church of Scientology, when the country tried to label the group with cult status. I find it interesting, as related in this article, that Belgium "even received blowback from the U.S. State Department" on the cult status?

It seems, Belgium authorities have done their homework and approaching Scientology from a different angle and charging the Church of Scientology and its leaders as a criminal organization.

Dec 28, 2012 - Scientologists may be facing their most daunting court case yet, and all it took was for someone to stop calling them a cult.

After a years long legal battle, federal prosecutors in Belgium now believe their investigation is complete enough to charge the Church of Scientology and its leaders as a criminal organization on charges of extortion, fraud, privacy breaches, and the illegal practice of medicine.

"The decision follows years of investigation that was triggered by a complaint by the Labour Mediation Service in the Brussels Region. Labour mediators were unhappy with a number of labour contracts," reads the report from Flanders News. "The matter ended up on the desk of examining magistrate Michel Claise, who ordered raids on Church of Scientology premises in 2008. During the raids police managed to seize a wealth of evidence," they add. And (with the help of Google translate) Belgian newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo are both reporting that the Belgian federal attorney is now seeking prosecution.

Multiple reports and the group's legal history point to one key factor here: The Belgium government won't charge Scientology for being a cult -- authorities are focusing on prosecuting it as a criminal organization.

Which is a new twist, as most of the group's many court battles over the years have focused on establishing its legitimacy as a religion. Scientology's well-funded legal team engaged in expensive cases like the one against against Time in 1991 and won its battle with the Cult Awareness Network in 1996, but the Belgian authorities have been battling Scientologists since 2007, when the country tried to label the group with cult status in a move that even received blowback from the U.S. State Department.

The Church of Scientology houses its European headquarters in Brussels, so a ban in Belgium could be crippling to the group — and authorities there seem to know it. One of the more similar recent cases against came in 2009, when the French chapter of Scientology was convicted of fraud by a Paris court and fined nearly $900,000. "But the judges did not ban the church entirely, as the prosecution had demanded, saying that a change in the law prevented such an action for fraud," reported The New York Times's Steven Erlanger. So the French chapter got saved by a legal wrinkle, but the Belgian prosecutors don't appear to be backing down.

Neither the federal prosecution nor the Church of Scientology have made public comments since word of the impending charges surfaced early Friday.


The Living Force
Scientology in Budapest, Hungary.

Members of Hungary's National Investigation Bureau raided a Church of Scientology center in Budapest Wednesday.

Official Says Raid on Budapest Scientology Center an Attempt to Suppress Beliefs

According to local media reports, the search was related to an ongoing investigation into the "suspected misuse of personal information and other crimes," AP reported.

More than 50 police officers were involved in the raid, which targeted "unknown persons" — a general label given to a suspect that has not been identified.

Responding to the incident, Karin Pouw, the spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International, called the search "religious suppression under the guise of data protection."

"[The raid was] an outrageous and wholesale violation of the human rights of all Scientologists in the country," the church official told AP. "These actions are guided by the discriminatory and hostile purposes of data protection officials who are using the law not as a shield to safeguard others, but as a sword to violate the rights of Scientology parishioners."

Though law enforcement officials did confirm the search to AP, they did not offer any additional information since the investigation has not concluded.

Scientology, previously recognized as an official religion in Hungary, lost that status in 2012 when the government passed a law mandating that "business churches" could no longer operate under "church status" or be eligible for state support or tax benefits.

The five-year-old legislation reduced the number of acknowledged religions in the country from over 300 to just a dozen. Groups interested in being recognized as a church must meet the list of new criteria posed by officials and gain a two-thirds vote from Parliament to be approved for "church status." Those not approved are allowed to continue meeting, but are defined as associations.


The Living Force
Priscilla Presley has become the latest celebrity to walk away from the controversial Church of Scientology, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

'I'm done': Priscilla Presley, 72, becomes the latest celebrity to quit Scientology, 40 years after joining religious sect when Elvis died

Presley, 72, who has been a member of the religious sect which counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta as members, told friends she had quit the religion after nearly four decades.

‘I’ve had enough. I’m done,’ said Presley, who recently dated singer Tom Jones. She is believed to have joined Scientology after the death of husband Elvis.

‘Priscilla reached out to John Travolta after Elvis died in 1977 and that’s how she ended up in the church,’ a source said. ‘She has been in it ever since and she raised her daughter Lisa Marie in it.

Lisa Marie quit the church in 2014. ‘Lisa Marie leaving made it hard for Priscilla,’ the source added. ‘They are very close as a family and leaving the church has been a family decision.’

Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1955, has been the subject of controversy for years.

Both Katie Holmes and Nicole Kidman – ex-wives of Top Gun star Cruise – have quit the church, as have actress Demi Moore and filmmaker Paul Haggis. The latter described it as an ‘evil cult’, adding: ‘Everyone who’s left has left quietly. Everyone is so scared; all the well-known people.’

Scientologists go through a process of ‘auditing’, in which they are asked extremely personal questions about their lives, including their sexual orientation.

Former members have alleged this information is used to ‘blackmail’ members to stay.

Others have accused the secretive church of holding them prisoner, making them do hard labor and forcing them apart from their families.

British filmmaker Louis Theroux was famously ‘tailed’ by Scientologists when he attempted to make a documentary about the church.

And BBC Panorama reporter John Sweeney said he had been ‘spied on’ during his investigation, ‘had my hotel invaded at midnight’ and was ‘chased around the streets of LA by sinister strangers’.

Cruise has credited Scientology with ‘saving’ him. He famously criticised actress Brooke Shields in 2005 for taking anti-depressants to cope with postnatal depression, saying psychiatric drugs are ‘dangerous’; a view held by the church.

Lisa Marie said after leaving the church: ‘I was slowly starting to self-destruct. They were taking my soul, my money, my everything.’

The church has always vehemently denied all charges of wrongdoing against it.

A spokesman for Priscilla Presley declined to comment.


The Living Force
Russia and Church of Scientology : The criminal proceedings were initiated in St. Petersburg, the regional FSB press service has confirmed the searches without divulging any additional information.

March 28, 2019 - Russian federal agents raid Church of Scientology offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg

Russian federal agents raid Church of Scientology offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg

Russian law enforcement agencies and the FSB have raided the Church of Scientology premises in Moscow and St. Petersburg on criminal charges of defrauding investors. Russian federal agents are searching the premises of the St. Petersburg Church of Scientology in the south of the city and the Professional Association of Applying Dianetics and Scientology in the Moscow Region, where the head Scientology office for Post-Soviet countries is located, according to the agencies, a law enforcement representative told TASS on Tuesday.

"The Russian FSB and police are searching the premises of the so-called St. Petersburg Church of Scientology, other missions of the international Church of Scientology in Moscow and the Moscow Region, as well as the residences of several members of this religious organization as part of a criminal investigation into the case of the defrauded investors. The police are reviewing scientology literature and financial documents of the organization," the representative said.

The criminal proceedings were initiated in St. Petersburg, the regional FSB press service has confirmed the searches without divulging any additional information.

"Detectives have found grounds to believe that Scientologists held seminars and training sessions that they charged for without obtaining a special license. In particular, Hubbard’s followers from the St. Petersburg office raised 3-4 million rubles ($45,000-61,000) a week. This money along with donations they transferred over its headquarters in the US. Therefore, over the last few years around 3 billion rubles ($46 mln) could have been siphoned off from Russia," the representative concluded.

Based on earlier reports at the beginning of this week, St. Petersburg’s Oktyabrsky District Court registered a criminal case against scientologist Ekaterina Zaborskikh who had been previously convicted for embezzlement. According to the investigation, Zaborskikh signed contracts to provide housing and perform communal services to the tune of 3.5 million rubles ($53,000). Zaborskikh represented legal entities that did not have construction permits or own any land. Detectives believe that she embezzled the funds she had received without fulfilling her responsibilities.

In 2017, Zaborskikh was sentenced to 6.5 years of prison for defrauding investors, whose funds she transferred to the Church of Scientology accounts (Scientology’s materials are considered extremist in Russia, and a number of Scientology organizations are outlawed and dubbed extremists). The total amount of funds embezzled then was 130 million rubles ($2 mln), In November 2018, the court found Zaborskikh guilty of embezzling another 30 million rubles ($460,000) and sentenced her to 8.5 years in prison on all counts.
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