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  Lawyer Seeks Scientologist Sentence

By Jean-Charles Banoun
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Sept. 22, 1999; 5:45 p.m. EDT

MARSEILLE, France –– A prosecutor sought 2- to 3-year prison terms on Wednesday for six members of the Church of Scientology on trial in France for fraud, and called the organization a "monster that devours" its followers' money.

Assistant Prosecutor Danielle Drouy-Ayral referred to the main defendant, Xavier Delamare, as a "parasite" living at the expense of Scientology offices in Marseille and Nice. Drouy-Ayral asked the court to convict Delamare and punish him with a 3-year prison term, with 18 months suspended, and the equivalent of a $32,000 fine.

The trial, which opened Monday and is to close Thursday, propelled the controversial Church of Scientology back into the news in France, where it is working to become recognized as a religion, not a sect.

Drouy-Ayral refused to enter the debate over whether Scientology is a religion. Instead, he compared the Church of Scientology to "a monster that devours the money of its followers." He demanded that the court confiscate the funds in the Scientology bank accounts seized during the investigation.

He sought two-year suspended prison terms against the five female defendants, one of whom has since left the Church of Scientology.

Drouy-Ayral asked that the court use its own judgment in deciding the fate of a seventh defendant who denounced the Church of Scientology as a "swindle" after three months as a member.

The defense, pleading its case Thursday, was expected to argue that fraud was an invalid charge because of the religious character of the Church of Scientology.

The trial culminated a probe that began in 1990 against regional Scientology leaders in Marseille and Nice for alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence.

France has long had a contentious relationship with Scientology, whose members include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.

France registers the Church of Scientology on a list of 173 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activity. Most other European countries do not 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

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