Scientology France: Fraud, Death and Fury

As the Church of Scientology prepares to open the doors to its brand new €33 million ($36mil USD / £28.5mil GBP) building in Paris, Scientology Business take a closer look at the controversial group’s fraud convictions, links to tragic deaths and its relationship with the French authorities

In 2017 a United States based company, Building Investments Group, purchased the 7,300 square metre (78,500 sq ft), five story office building located at 270 Av. du President Wilson in the heart of the Paris Saint-Denis business district. Just two years prior, the former Samsung Electronics office had undergone a €5.7 million Euro refurbishment ($6.2 million USD / £4.9 million GBP) under it’s previous owners, TH Real Estate, with the view to provide “strong visibility and to allow its future tenants to benefit from a strategic address in this business district of Plaine-Saint-Denis”.

City authorities and local residents soon discovered the new owners were not an American building investment firm, but rather the Church of Scientology… and they were not happy about it.

Local planning officials opposed the sale but were helpless to stop it. Earlier this year, David Proult, head of urban planning for Saint-Denis told Euronews “We told them again and again that they were not welcome (…) and I observe that everyone is a little helpless.” 30,000 residents of Saint-Denis signed a petition against Scientology’s incursion into their city to no avail. One local signee stated that Scientology posed a “danger” a “risk to the people of the city”.

Further concern was raised in relation to its proximity to the Stade de France, one of the major sporting venues being used for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Despite the clear message that they were not welcome, Scientology did what it does best: plowed its way over the wishes of their prospective neighbors, taking the matter to the French court. This most recent in a series of conflicts for The Church of Scientology in France mirrors its lack of welcome across the UK and Europe.

Referred to as a “dangerous cult” in a 1995 French parliamentary report and officially listed as a sect, Scientology has no religious standing in France. According to The Guardian, Scientology claims to have 45,000 parishioners in France, but the government estimates its total membership to be around 2,000.

Scientology first appeared in registration documents as the Friends of Scientology in 1959. Founded by French-Egyptian classical pianist Mario Feninger, who had been heavily influenced by Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the organization delivered lectures and courses and became pivotal in the spread and development of Scientology in France.

Upon Feninger’s death in 2016, a memorial service was held at Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International in Hollywood, California. 

Mario Feninger

Following Feninger, the Hubbard Association of French Scientologists was created on December 27, 1968, with an apartment in Paris listed as its registered address. Three years later the Church of Scientology of France opened on April 26, 1971, followed by the French Association of Scientology on December 22, 1975. 

Just as the group stealthily entered Clearwater, Florida in the 1970’s under an assumed name, so too did the church employ pseudonyms in France. In 1978 both the “Church of New Understanding” as well as “Association for the Study of the New Faith” were given trial runs.

No matter the name, Scientology has remained true to form, breeding conflict in France just as it does everywhere it appears.

In 1972 a public inquiry commenced into the French Association of Scientology and its claims that physical cures and professional success can be achieved through Scientology. Lasting seven years, ultimately L. Ron Hubbard and several senior executives were found guilty and convicted of fraud.

Hubbard was convicted in absentiacondemned to four years’ imprisonment and fined 35,000 francs. A warrant was issued for his arrest but his timely departure for the high seas aboard his ship The Apollo meant he managed to evade justice and return to the US.

Jacquelline Valentin, former head of the church in France, was also sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 10,000 francs.

The new Scientology building in Paris is due to open in January 2024, ahead of the Olympic Games

Despite the fraud convictions Scientology’s operation continued – with tragic consequences. Four days before Christmas 2006, 47 year-old secretary Gloria Lopez, left her apartment and headed for the railway tracks. Standing with her arms outstretched, she smiled at the driver of an oncoming commuter train. He couldn’t stop in time.

Her grieving son and daughter searched her apartment for a note, only to find harrowing collection of O/W write-ups in which Ms. Lopez confessed to spending €250,000 on Scientology courses and feeling regret for distancing herself from her children.

Eerily echoing the events leading up to the death of Clearwater, Florida Scientologist Lisa McPherson in 1995, Martine Boublil also filed a complaint in 2008 against her brother, a high ranking French Scientologist. 

She alleged that her brother, Claude Boublil, kidnapped her in order to treat her through Scientology’s Introspection Rundown. Martine was found to being held against her will, half naked on a infested mattress in a house in Sardinia.

2009 saw the opening of a much anticipated trial after nine years of investigation into allegations of organized fraud against Scientology. 

Aude-Claire Malton, a housekeeper at a Paris hotel claims she spent about €21,000 on “sauna therapy” and in classes to “heal the mind,” and Nelly Reziga, who alleges the when she refused to take Scientology courses, she was fired by her Scientologists boss were the two plaintiffs in this case.

Investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin described Scientology as “first and foremost a commercial business” defined by “a real obsession for financial remuneration.”

Scientology was found guilty and ordered to pay fines of €600,000. In addition, four French Scientology officials received suspended prison sentences while the church’s leader in France, Alain Rosenberg, received a €30,000 fine and a two-year suspended sentence. Scientology appealed the verdict and lost in 2012.

Georges Fenech, magistrate and president of Miviludes, a French government agency that monitors cult activities, states that Scientology is nothing more than a business corporation masked as a religion. Fenech knows Scientology well and has found himself the target of the group’s fair game attacks.

In 1997 he investigated a case in Lyon involving Scientology in which a man, drowning in debt to the association, killed himself by jumping from a 12th-floor window. Convictions were handed down for manslaughter and fraud.

Scientology is set to open its new Paris headquarters in just weeks

France’s Miviludes keeps tabs on Scientology’s activities, Germany considers the group a threat to their Constitution and has them under surveillance, the Greek Holy Synod issued warning about Scientology, calling it “medically, socially and ethically dangerous” and urging the public to stay away and Belgium has been building a case for blackmail against the sect for over a decade.

Across the globe Scientology creates tension, frustration and anger whereever it settles. In France, Scientology has been found guilty of organized fraud on more than one occasion and implicated in several tragic deaths. Meanwhile the citizens of Saint Denis can only watch impotently as Scientology celebrates the opening of their newest building, six months shy of the preliminary opening of the Olympic Games.


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Stefani Hutchison

Author of the Confront and Shatter blog, Stefani Hutchison has been reporting on Scientology since 2017. Contact Stefani on Twitter:

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