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Scientology On Trial: French Court Will Try Top Members For Fraud

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PARIS — The Church of Scientology and seven of its top members are to stand trial in Paris on fraud charges after an investigation into allegations by a former member that the church swindled her out of more than $28,000.

French judicial officials said Monday that the church _ considered a sect in France _ and the seven members are to face charges of "fraud in an organized group" and "illegally acting as a pharmacy." They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. A trial date has not yet been set.

The Paris prosecutor's office had recommended the charges be dropped.

The charges stemmed from a 1998 complaint by a woman who joined the church after she was recruited at a subway station. The woman, 33 at the time, invested thousands of mostly borrowed euros in Scientology courses and so-called purification packs containing vitamins and other pills.

The woman's lawyer, Olivier Morice, hailed the decision to hold a trial as "courageous," saying the case will strengthen France's fight against sects.

France has had a contentious relationship with the Church of Scientology. In 2002, a French court fined the Paris regional branch of the church for a data protection violation but acquitted it of attempted fraud and false advertising charges.

Established in 1945 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems. It claims 10 million members around the world, including celebrity devotees Tom Cruise and John Travolta.