HUFFINGTON POST
10/27/2015 04:25 pm ET

Belgium Could Expel Church Of Scientology From Country

Authorities started investigating the church 18 years ago.
Chris Meganck and Eric Roux of Scientology Belgium and Europe are pictured during the first session of a trial against Scient
ERIC LALMAND/AFP/Getty Images
Chris Meganck and Eric Roux of Scientology Belgium and Europe are pictured during the first session of a trial against Scientology Europe in Brussels court on Oct. 26, 2015.

Members of the Church of Scientology convened in a Brussels courtroom on Monday to face charges of fraud, extortion, running a criminal organization, violating privacy laws and practicing illegal medicine.

If convicted, the church could be banned from the country.

The charges, leveled against 11 senior members of the group, are the result of two separate investigations by Belgian authorities: one in 1997, spurred by complaints from former members, and one in 2008, after an employment agency accused the church of trying to convert people to whom it had offered fake jobs, reports AFP.

A picture taken on Oct. 26, 2015, shows people attending the first session of the trial.
ERIC LALMAND/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on Oct. 26, 2015, shows people attending the first session of the trial.

The church, founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, claims to teach its followers to use technology to expand the mind. Critics contend its a far more predatory organization bent on financial gain, going so far as to blackmail members who leave.

Chris Meganck, a spokesman for the church, seemed to welcome the Belgium trial, spinning it on Monday as a chance to clear Scientology's name of an ill-deserved reputation, one shaped largely by disgruntled ex-employees. 

"Finally, we get the opportunity to respond to this whole series of accusations, insinuations and claims that have been spread with a lot of enthusiasm and exaggeration,” he told Belgium’s Flanders News.

The trial is expected to last a month.

This 2007 file photo shows the entrance plaque for the Church of Scientology's European Office for Public Affairs and Hu
BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images
This 2007 file photo shows the entrance plaque for the Church of Scientology's European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights in Brussels.

Should the trial result in a conviction, Belgium may find it difficult to actually ban the organization. Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reports that Scientology could simply start anew in the country under a different name.

A trial against the church is also not without precedent. In 2009, a French court convicted the group of fraud and fined it nearly $900,000, though it stopped short of expelling the organization from the country.

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