Religion News Blog — The controversial Church of Scientology is in the process of acquiring an office complex in a suburb of Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Update: In a statement posted at the website of Amsterdam TV station AT5, the Church of Scientology says it has not bought the building; no contract or agreement has been signed. The organization is looking for a building, but says no definitive decisions have been made.
Update 2 We have added information about Scientology’s plans for an ‘Ideal Org’ in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool says the building, which previously housed a number of businesses, belongs to Rotterdam-based Fortress Vastgoed, a real estate holding company.
The enormous complex is located at Overschiestraat 176 in Slotervaart, a district in Amsterdam’s New West borough — well away from the city’s center, where the problem-plagued cult has had a presence for decades.
“Yes, on paper, Scientology has bought it,” Maurice Kortleven of Fortress told local news daily Het Parool. “They are now working to arrange financing.”
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According to the paper Kortleven did not want to say how much Scientology is paying for the building, but Fortress beliefs the transfer will take place later this year.
Scientology Kerk Amsterdam (SKA) currently rents a building in downtown Amsterdam.
Local critics of the religious cult have noticed that in recent years the six-story glass-fronted building has looked quite empty. Passers-by hardly ever see more than a handful of people through the windows.
In 2003 the Scientology’s Amsterdam base faced a mutiny in which ‘at least 50 of the 150 active core members’ left.
At the time former Scientology recruiter John Leemhuis said “they have been in financial trouble for years. First we we housed at the Nieuwezijds in a building from De Slegte, at a rent of DFL 10.000 ($5200) a month, and even that we couldn’t always pay. We had to leave that building, and now we’re a litte further up the street in a building that rents for Dfl 40.000 ($20.800) a month! The telephone service is regularly cut off when there is no money. And that is now going to get worse.”
In 2010 the owners of the downtown building, real estate corporation Libra International, filed interim injunction procedures against the Church of Scientology for rent arrears in the amount of €78.000 ($103.000).
It was the second time that Libra had to resort to legal proceedings in order to get Scientology to pay.
Het Parool suggest the new building is meant to be remodeled into an ‘Ideal Org,’ Scientology’s spacious, luxurious ‘palaces’ meant to convey a sense of success and respectability — ideals that, given the amount of negative press the organization manages to attract — seem rather elusive.
Scientology is using an exclusive website, accessible to members only, to try and drum up financial support among its followers for the purchase of a suitable building.
Het Parool notes, “they are called upon to donate generously, for which, in the sect’s best tradition, members can earn some fifteen overblown nonsense titles ranging from simply, ‘Supporter’ to ‘New Cilization Builder With Honors.’
But, says the paper, those who donate money to Scientology should note that donations to the sect are not tax deductible since the Dutch Tax Service does not view Scientology as a charitable organization.
Scientology has apparently found a way around that problem, says Het Parool. The ‘Ideal Org Club’ advises supporters to send their money to the Nabesa foundation in Lelystad.
‘Nabesa’ means ‘Naar een Betere Samenleving’ — To a Better Society. Among its founders and boardmembers are several Scientologists. The foundation’s statutes say the purpose of Nabesa is to bring about improvements in society according to the ideas promoted by L. Ron Hubbard.
For tax purposes Nabesa is considered a charitable organization in the Netherlands, creating a sneaky route the paper suggests escaped the Tax Offices’ attention.
The paper notes that Scientology watchers around the world consider the ‘Ideal Orgs’ concept to be a scam — a way to extract more money from followers, while placing more and more real estate in the hands of Scientology.
Scientology spokesperson Merel Remmerswaal told the paper not all the necessary money is available yet, but as soon as that is the case Scientology will leave its current offices at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
Remmerswaal says, “That we, for the first time, are proceed to a purchase must be seen in the light of international developments over the past few years. It is simply the next step of our religion due to increasing demands.
Yet by all accounts — except those from the Church of Scientology itself — membership in dwindling.
LOST FREE SPEECH CASE
In 2005 Scientology lost a long-running legal battle against freedom of speech in the Netherlands.
It is believed the organization has a few hundred ‘members’ in the Netherlands.