Belgium will prosecute Church of Scientology as a criminal organisation

FlandersNews.be reports that

Belgium’s federal public prosecutors have decided to prosecute the Church of Scientology in Belgium and several of its high-ranking members.

The organisation and several of its members face charges in connection with extortion, fraud, illegal practice of medicine and violations of privacy legislation. […]

The decision follows years of investigation that was triggered by a complaint by the Labour Mediation Service in the Brussels Region. […]

The daily De Tijd claims that the Belgian judicial authorities are now seeking a strong condemnation that can serve as an international precedent. Several years ago the organisation was convicted in France on fraud charges.

In September 2007 Belgian prosecutor Jean-Claude Van Espen already recommended that the Church of Scientology should stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10-year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organization.

Van Espen’s probe also concluded that Scientology’s Brussels-based Europe office and its Belgian missions conducted unlawful practices in medicine, violated of privacy laws and used illegal business contracts.

A decision on whether to prosecute the controversial cult was expected in May, 2009, but was postponed indefinitely when lawyers for the accused filed requests for additional research.

In 2007 the Associated Press said

Scientology has been active in Belgium for nearly three decades and in 2003 opened an international office just a few meters (yards) away from the headquarters of the European Union to lobby for its right to be recognized as an official religious group, a status it does not enjoy in Belgium.

A Belgian parliamentary committee report in 1997 labeled Scientology a sect and investigations were launched into the group’s finances and practices, such as the personality tests conducted on new members.

Investigators have spent the past decade trying to determine how far Scientology went in recruiting converts after numerous complaints were filed with police by ex-members claiming they’d been the victims of intimidation and extortion.

In 2009 a French court convicted the Church of Scientology and six of its members of organized fraud.

Last February that conviction was upheld in an appeals court.

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