-Caveat Lector-

>From CNN,
French Justice Ministry investigates destruction of Scientology evidence
September 8, 1999
Web posted at: 7:06 AM EDT (1106 GMT)

PARIS (AP) -- France's Justice Ministry opened an investigation Wednesday
into the destruction of key evidence against the Church of Scientology in a
Marseille court, according to judicial sources.

Marseille court officials alerted the Justice Ministry to the removal of
more than three tons of evidence in August, the sources said on customary
condition of anonymity.

The Marseille prosecutor's office said in a statement that the destruction
of certain sealed files was a result of "negligence" by a court clerk and
not an intentional act.

The documents relate to an investigation opened in 1990 against regional
Scientology leaders in the southern coastal cities of Marseille and Nice for
fraud and the illegal practice of medicine.

Seven of those leaders are scheduled to go on trial Sept. 20. The
destruction of the evidence will not delay the trial, the sources said.

According to a lawyer representing the plaintiff, a former Scientologist,
the evidence destroyed includes financial statements, notes concerning
Scientology members and apparatus known as "electrometers," designed to
measure "self-control."

The lawyer, Jean-Michel Pesenti, said the documents were relatively
unimportant, but that the church could try to use their disappearance to
delay the trial.

The case was initially put off in 1995 due to a procedural error.

A Paris appeals court is expected to rule Sept. 29 on a similar case against
the Church of Scientology in which evidence also disappeared.

France has long had a contentious relationship with Scientology, which is
fighting to be recognized as a legitimate religion in Europe.

In July, France's highest court upheld the acquittal of nine Scientology
members accused of corruption and theft, ruling it lacked the authority to
decide whether Scientology is a religion.

French prosecutors had argued the church was a sect that defrauded people of
their money.

France registers the church on a list of 173 groups that should be tracked
to prevent cult activities. Most other European countries also don't accept
it as a religion.

Founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los
Angeles-based organization teaches that technology can expand the mind and
help solve human problems.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Dan S

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