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Belgian Scientologists in 'no doubt' of beating fraud charges

AFP  |  Brussels 

The Belgian branch of the controversial Church of Scientology said today it had "no doubt" it would be cleared of fraud and extortion charges when it goes to court next week in a case that could see it banned in Belgium.

Championed by superstar members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology stirs sharp divisions -- critics decry it as a cult and a scam, while supporters say it offers much-needed spiritual support in a fast-changing world.

"The Church of Scientology goes to court with the firm intention of seeing the fundamental rights of its Belgian members finally recognised," it said in a statement.

"Not only does the Church contest the charges against it, which affect the fundamental rights of all Scientologists, it also intends to denounce the serious judicial abuses (against it) of the past 18 years," it said.

The charges are similar to others over the years, such as in France where Scientology is considered a cult and was fined thousands of euros (dollars) for taking advantage of vulnerable followers.

In Belgium, it faces an outright ban if the case, which opens Monday in Brussels, ends with a conviction on charges of fraud, extortion, running a criminal organisation and violating the right to privacy.

The Belgian authorities launched a first investigation in 1997 after several former members complained about its practices.

A second followed in 2008 when an employment agency charged that the church had made bogus job offers so as to draw in and recruit new members.

"Scientologists have no doubt the court will do its work with integrity and understanding so that, just as in Italy and Spain where we have been the object of the same campaign of accusations and false revelations, their good faith will be recognised," church spokesman Eric Roux said in the statement.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

It is recognised as a religion in the United States and in other countries such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden, and claims a worldwide membership of 12 million.

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First Published: Fri, October 23 2015. 20:48 IST
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