Martin W.* was having trouble convincing Judge Yves Régimont that Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) was nothing more than he had said it was.
All the OSA did, he insisted, was try to inform both governmental and non-governmental organisations about Scientology and promote the Church’s social reform programmes. All they did, he said, was work to correct all the false information that was spread about the Church.
Given what he had found in the case files however, the judge could not help thinking that the OSA operated as Scientology’s security service, something Martin flatly denied.
But in that case, the judge wanted to know, what exactly was the difference between the OSA and Scientology’s Brussels-based European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights?
Martin tried more than once to reformulate his answer, to nuance the differences. But each time, he came up against the same objection from Judge Régimont.
As much as Martin had denied his suggestion that the OSA operated as Scientology’s security service, that was where the evidence in the files pointed, said the judge. “When you find not one, but a whole series of elements, all going in the same sense,.... one wonders about the role of the OSA.”
There were the password-protected computer discs which, according to police officers present during the 1999 raid on Scientology premises, Martin had tried to hide. This too, he had vehemently denied.
Judge Régimont had questioned him about several documents found on the discs in question:
– an expert report alerting Scientology to the dangers of the excessive use of vitamins (particularly relevant in the context of Scientology’s Purification Rundown);
– a mystery contact who was paid for information and identified only by a codename;
– and a document detailing Martin’s role in finding a Scientologist to take up the role of assistant to a Member of the European Parliament;
Martin had provided explanations for each these documents and argued that the investigators and prosecutors had insisted on putting the most sinister interpretation on perfectly innocent activities.
But Judge Régimont had made it clear he was still troubled that so many sensitive documents had been found on password-protected computer discs.
And now he came up with another example of what the police raid had turned up: a file on the investigating magistrate heading up the case.
Now did he understand why investigators thought there was more to the OSA than he was admitting to, the judge asked? It was a bit strange, wasn’t it? “What does that mean?”
They had found press cuttings on the magistrate handling the Scientology investigation in Martin’s office. “How do you explain that? What were these documents doing there? (1)
The judge had been speaking for a while now, so Martin was a bit overwhelmed. “Actually, I don’t quite remember why I had that file, to be honest,” he said, after a couple of false of starts.
He had received the file from another Scientologist, Jacky Vaquette, he said. (2) He was not even sure what was in it. “I read the headlines, but I don’t really remember what they were saying. They were just newspaper articles, nothing more than that.”
“You said you did not understand,” said the judge. “But they were accompanied by English summaries.”
“Possibly, whatever,” said Martin. “But in any case they were just press articles.” (Martin, originally from England, did not appear to be fluent in French, despite the years he had spent in France and Belgium with Scientology. He addressed the court in English and throughout the trial made use of the court interpreters to follow proceedings.)
Judge Régimont changed tack again. “What is ‘black propaganda’ in the Church of Scientology?” he asked.
“Black propaganda is when somebody spreads false information, disinformation, lies etc, about somebody else,” said Martin. “It is not an action that the Church condones.”.
References to black propaganda in Scientology literature were “...observations of what is done not only to the Church but to other churches,” he added.
“But which the Church does not apply?” the judge asked.
“Absolutely not,” Martin replied. “I would like to say that one of the prime policies of the Church is never to do anything illegal.”
“I would like to add,” said the defendant, “that I am really misrepresented in the file – as a lot of things have been in the file.”
“The prosecutor says the Church and some of the defendants have broken the law in this area,” the judge said, referring to Belgium’s privacy laws. “...and clearly you interested yourself in the problem.”
By now, the judge had been questioning Martin for nearly two hours, so court adjourned briefly. When the session resumed, Judge Régimont started working another seam of the evidence.
The judge checked what Martin had already told him: that although he worked out of an office in the Church of Scientology Belgium building, he was part of a different operation entirely, that of the Scientology’s European Office for Public Affairs and Human Rights. Martin confirmed that.
And yet the car he used was registered to the Church, said the judge. There was some confusion too, in the bank accounts.
The car was just a facility they offered him just in the same way they gave him office space, said Martin. As for the banking arrangements, it might have been better to have opened a separate account, but at the time he had not thought it would be a problem. In any case, he had neither given money to nor received money from the Church of Scientology Belgium. Most of his funding came from the Copenhagen Church, he added.
And the tax control of the Church, said the judge: why had he got involved in responding to the tax office’s inquiries if he was not a part of the Church in Belgium, if it was not his problem?
That information was from a court document – a procès-verbal – that misrepresented the facts, said Martin. “What actually happened was the tax inspectors came to the offices of the Church. They specifically asked to come and see me,” he explained. The asked him a series of questions, he answered them and they went away and continued with the tax inspection.
“I would like to add that I am really misrepresented in the file – as a lot of things have been in the file.”
But why, the judge asked, would the tax inspectors have asked to see him?
“I have no idea,” Martin replied. He had explained to the tax inspectors that he was not part of the CoS Belgium but worked with the Office of Public Affairs. But the officers had wanted to speak to him and to (fellow defendant) Marc B, who was not there that day. Nor could he explain why they had been singled out for special attention. “I must say I found it strange.”
“The prosecutor says the Church and some of the defendants have broken the law in this area, and clearly you interested yourself in the problem.” said the judge.
When the judge asked about how his work was funded Martin explained that his position was unpaid but that the Church in Copenhagen – and in France, where he had been previously – met some of his costs. To make ends he meet did other work on the side: he had one job editing a shipping magazine; and he also did work for Belgian companies U-Man and Hydrex as a public relations consultant and a legal adviser. (3)
Judge Régimont wondered about the extent of that work because they had found a number of bills from U-man for the PR and legal work.
“U-Man uses the technology of Mr. Hubbard,” said Martin. And precisely they operated as a company run along Scientology lines they had experienced discrimination. “It was in that capacity that I was advising them.”
“So you were resolving legal problems,” said the judge. “Are you a lawyer?”
He was not, said Martin, but U-Man did not have anyone handling such matters. “Perhaps I should add that I was dealing with legal affairs in England. A lot of OSA activities are with legal affairs.”
“What was this legal advice that you gave to U-Man? Was it related to Scientology rules?” the judge asked.
It was nothing like that, said Martin. “Perhaps it would be better to call it legal liaison.”
But then the judge got back to the documents found on the computer discs: among them, he said, were a whole series on the application of the Belgian laws on private life.
“What was the point? To inform the Church?” the judge asked? Because since the start of the trial the defendants had been telling the court that had no know they were breaking the law, he added.
“The prosecutor says the Church and some of the defendants have broken the law in this area, and clearly you interested yourself in the problem.”
That was part of his job, said Martin. “As I explained earlier, one of the roles that I had was to see if there was any European legislation that could affect the Church. So I asked a European data expert to do an analysis of European law and also to d an analysis of how it would be applied in different countries.” He forgot how many exactly: eight or 10 exactly.
Once the report on the data protection laws had been prepared, the findings were went to the churches in those countries to ensure they took the necessary measures.
“So there was an awareness in the Church of Scientology – or you in particular – that there was legislation and it had to be respected,” said the judge. “You informed the local churches but it was for them to handle from there.”
Yes, said Martin. “And this was done in Belgium too,” he added. When the judge asked when this was done, after some consultation with his lawyer they concluded it had been in June 2000. (4)
Judge Régimont went back to the computer discs. Another document they had found there was a list of Euro-deputies: Members of the European Parliament.
“What was that for?” he asked. “To help your campaign work?”
“Which list?” Martin asked. “It doesn’t ring a bell. The judge did not pursue the matter. Instead, he handed over the questioning to the prosecutor, Christophe Caliman.
* While most of the defendants were not identified during the trial, Martin W. was one of a handle of Scientologists named in some media reports: the role he once played as a Church spokesman meant he was already a public figure. I am nevertheless adopting the same policy with all the defendants and respecting the general convention in the Belgian media, which is not to identify defendants before they have actually been convicted.
1) The investigating magistrate for this first stage of the case was Jean-Claude Van Espen. What was not entirely clear from the exchanges in court was whether the judge was talking exclusively about a file of press cuttings kept on Van Espen, or whether there were other documents.
2) Vaquette’s name came up more than once during the trial. He is not one of the defendants.
3) Both U-Man and Hydrex were, at least in the 1990s, run by Scientologists. They feature in at least one edition of the directory of the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises (WISE).
4) If the legal advice on data protection was circulated in June 2000, as the defence seemed to be saying, that would mean it happened after the September 1999 police raids.
Photo: Palais de Justice, place Poelaert, Bruxelles, by Michel Wal, under a Creative Commons licence.