De Morgen

Authorities Find Fraud in Scientology

By Peter-Jan Bogaert

March 17, 2000

BRUSSELS - Mar 17 - The judicial authorities in Brussels have found clear indications of fraud in the financial records of the Church of Scientology and its affiliated organization. The controversial religious movement has also repeatedly violated the law on privacy. Scientology unlawfully keeps medical and personal information on its members on file. This information was confirmed to De Morgen by "substitute" [closest US equivalent probably: assistant district attorney] Christophe Caliman of the financial section, who is coordinating the ongoing judicial investigation. However, nobody has yet been charged at this point.

The investigation was launched after a complaint in 1997 from an ex-member of Scientology, who had tried in vain to get a refund of 700,000 Belgian francs [approx. US$ 17,000], which she had paid for various courses. Last September searches were made at a total of 25 locations, by request of investigating judge Van Espen. At that time tons of documents and tens of computers were seized, belonging both to the VZW [non-profit association] Scientology and a number of satellite companies. Analysis of the huge amount of data is taking longer than expected due to a shortage of staff, and the investigation won't be concluded for another year.

Despite this there are already "very sound indications" that Scientology committed tax fraud, amongst other means by writing phony invoices. Scientology companies sent each other invoices for services that were "more than likely" never delivered. This financial merry-go-round remarkably didn't benefit the Belgian branch of Scientology. The bulk of the money was transferred to the American headquarters of the cult. The authorities at first wanted to send an investigating commission to the United States, but decided against it because of a lack of means.

Progress has also been made in the investigation into privacy violations. The controversial movement kept files about its members that hadn't been registered with the Commission for the Protection of Privacy, which is legally required. On top of that, there are indications of the unlawful practice of medicine.

Because investigations are still ongoing, Caliman cannot formally state that Scientology is a cult. "But if one looks at the criteria laid down by the parliamentary inquiry to determine what constitutes a cult, Scientology scores 8 out of 10."

Scientology spokesman Marc Bromberg still denies all accusations: "Scientology didn't do anything illegal". He sees the judicial interest in Scientology as a reaction to the worldwide successes achieved by the movement. This week Sweden became the first European country to recognize Scientology as an official religion