Crowdfunded Journalism

Trial Day 1: Money & ethics

Jonny Jacobsen photo
Jonny JacobsenBrussels
Trial Day 1: Money & ethics
Day one of the Belgian trial of Scientology opened with the focus on the movement’s disciplinary code and how it makes its money.

The trial of two Scientology associations and 12 members opened Monday in a packed Brussels courtroom, with the focus on how the movement disciplined its members and how it made its money.

There was standing room only as the press came out in force to hear details of the charges against the defendants, which range from fraud and extortion to criminal association.

A former treasurer of the Church of Scientology in Belgium, Anne-France H.*, was the first of the accused to take the stand.

Anne-France, now 47, explained how she became a Scientologist as a teenager after getting to know members and being impressed how they applied their beliefs in the way they looked after their children. Her own family situation had not been good so she had left home early, she explained.

She had put aside her studies in biology and pharmacy to devote herself to working for Scientology, She had always been part of a group, she said, “...and I realised that what they did was quite good.”

Yves Régimont, president of the three-strong tribunal judging the case, asked her about Scientology’s internal laws.

One thing that had struck him, he said, was that the movement’s founder had devised a complex system of rules listing a plethora of infractions and their corresponding sanctions.

What had struck him, he said, was how people could be punished simply for arriving a few minutes late for a course, he said.

“Mr. Hubbard seems to have foreseen everything,” he said, referring to the movement’s founder, who died in 1986. “You have a criminal code for things, with infractions and sanctions.”

He noted too that Scientologists were in the habit of denouncing each other for infractions.

“Personally, I haven’t had that experience,” the defendant replied. But it was a bit like what happened at school, she added. “It is a question of respect.” If you arrived late, that posed a problem for your “twin”, your study partner, she explained.

Judge Régimont also asked about the personality test known as the Oxford Capacity Analysis (OCA), a list of 200 questions that are often presented to potential members.

“Some of these questions are extremely personal, extremely private,” he noted.

The answers to the questions are fed into a programme which provides an analysis of your personality. “You can agree or not,” said Anne-France. “You can say ‘I don’t agree and it stops there’.”

But so far as she was concerned, she added: “If I hadn’t found Scientology, I perhaps wouldn’t be here today.” What other people had found in the Catholic Church, she had found in Scientology, she said.

Scientology auditing, the movement’s system of therapy, had helped her a lot, she said. “It was like talking to a priest or a friend.”

“I liked the atmosphere of the church,” she explained. She found it convivial. So she started to help out more until finally she signed up for two and a half years on staff. “I knew it was volunteer work from the start,” she added.

But she had left the church in 2005 for health reasons but remained friends with her former Scientology colleagues and still believed that Scientology did a lot of good.

Judge Régimont returned to her time as treasurer. She explained that there were two separate accounts: for sales of books and other goods and another for the sale of services. And they were bringing in 5,000 euros a week, she said, 30 percent of which went on commission paid for sales.

She denied there was any obligation on the part of staff members to reinvest that commission back in to Scientology.

She gave a detailed breakdown of where the money went but Judge Régimont seemed more interested in the order of seniority within the network of Scientology organisations: from Brussels, to the European headquarters at Copenhagen, to the centre at Saint Hill, East Grinstead in England; to Scientology’s Los Angeles offices.

And how much had she spent on Scientology, he asked. About 10,000 Belgian francs (250 euros) she said.

Consulting the dossier, the judge reminded her about her membership of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) for which she had paid between 30 and 35,000 Belgian francs. She had also been co-signatory with her husband for a loan for 400,000 Belgian francs (9,900 euros) for his Scientology training.

The IAS seemed to be receiving colossal sums, he noted. Anne-France said she didn’t know anything about the international situation.

Potential Trouble Source

Prosecutor Christophe Caliman picked up the questioning, asking about an ethics report written up on a Scientologist who could not pay his course. “What interests me is what happens to you when you cannot pay your debts,” said Caliman.

She could not help with this particular case. “It was a long time ago,” she said. She could not help him either, with an explanation of what PTS handling (Potential Trouble Source) was. Another defendant, Stéphane J., a former president of the Church of Scientology in Belgium, was called on to explain.

PTS handling he explained, “... is a course to find out what the sources of problems are and what you can do about it.”.

So a PTS was someone who presented a danger to himself, but mostly for the Church of Scientology? asked Judge Régimont. Someone who was PTS brought trouble not just to themselves but also to others, their family, their friends, Stéphane explained.

“Now we are getting to the core of it,” said Judge Régimont.”

“Can you imagine a situation in which the Church of Scientology requires someone to choose between the Church of Scientology or their family?” the judge asked.

“Is the person considered as PTS if they do everything to dissuade someone from staying in Scientology?” he asked. Stéphane clarified. No, it was the Scientologist who was connected to such a person who was PTS.

(Here is an explanation from a Scientology website: “Potential Trouble Source: (abbreviated “PTS”). A person who is in some way connected to and being adversely affected by a suppressive person. He is called a potential trouble source because he can be a lot of trouble to himself and to others.”

“So the PTS person has to follow a course to face up to this threat?” asked the judge.

“No,” said Stéphane. “The first thing you do is help that person resolve the situation with the help of an ethics officer.”

“This is too complicated for me,” Judge Régimont remarked. “I don’t have a Scientology interpreter.”

He tried again: suppose you have a husband who is outraged at the Scientology courses his wife is doing. Madame is PTS. What do you do? Do you have to get rid of your husband?

“She will try to change his attitude,” said Stéphane.

“You see? I’m making progress!” said the judge.

“She wants to continue in Scientology; he … wants her to leave the Church of Scientology,” Stéphane continued.

“So she needs to choose between her family and Scientology,” Judge Régimont continued. “Is this a choice she made herself of is it something her auditor presented to her?” If the “handling” was not resolving the situation, did the auditor present the woman with the choice of either leaving the Church of Scientology or her family?

“Can you imagine a situation in which the Church of Scientology requires someone to choose between the Church of Scientology or their family?” the judge asked.

“It is Madame who decides,” said Stéphane.

But that was part of Hubbard’s arsenal, said the judge. Yes, said Stéphane: but this was an extreme scenario. “I have never advised someone to leave their family. We try to do everything to resolve the situation.”

“I did my job in good faith”

The prosecutor Caliman resumed his questioning of Anne-France H.

What were the consequences of non-payment for Scientology courses? he asked. What did it mean to be put in a condition of emergency in Scientology, he wanted to know. “Is this not what happens when rules are not followed?”

Yes, she replied, but that had no consequence.

Judge Régimont reminded her that she was accused of being a member of a criminal organisation. How did she feel about that?

She laughed, She had taken the job as treasurer because there was no else available who could do it. So far as criminal association was concerned, “There was no intention to cheat anyone at all.”

“But supposing,” said the judge, “that the court considers that in some way the global organisation is not too Catholic --” he rephrased, “-- not too correct. Is your position was that ‘I was just a pawn, I was just doing my job?’”

“I did my job in good faith,” said Anne-France. “As an active member, my aim was to help people.”

And did she have a superior? Apart from Mr. Hubbard.

“We have an Org chart where everyone has their role,” she said.

“Someone said during the investigation that there was no hierarchy,” said the judge. “That everyone followed the rules set down by Hubbard. Some people said there were no leaders.”

“Because the rules were those of Mr. Hubbard,” she said. “But people supervised what was done.”

Judge Régimont had the clerk make a note: “Madame confirms that she was subordinate to certain people--” but there was an objection from the defence, so he rephrased. “She was under the supervision of certain people.

Court adjourned for lunch.

* While Belgian law allows me to identify the defendants, most of the news media here choose not to do that. After consulting with local colleagues, I was told that the convention is to wait until the judgment. It seems only fair to respect that convention.

Photo, Jean Housen, Galeries de façade du palais de Justice de Bruxelles. Wikimedia CC Licence.

#Trial, #Scientology, #Belgium, #ethics, #fraud