45 Held For Questioning After Raid on Scientology Meeting
MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Police arrested 69 people in a raid on a hotel and accused 45 of them of fraud, illegal association and forgery for being members of the Church of Scientology.
Among those held was Heber Jentzsch, 53, of Utah, who is the president of the Church of Scientology International, and two other Americans, a judge told reporters at a news conference Sunday night, hours after the raid. The other two Americans were not identified.
A court spokesman said 24 of the original 69 people arrested were released when it was learned during questioning that they were not leaders of the group.
Judge Jose Maria Vasquez Honrubia said that besides the Americans, those under arrest included two French, four Italians, five Argentines, two Mexicans, three Britons, one Swede, one Swiss, one Chilean, one Venezuelan, one South African, one Peruvian and 20 Spaniards.
The raid was conducted on the headquarters of Narconon, a drug rehabilitation program, Dianetics and the Civil Association of Applied Philosophy, all associated with the Church of Scientology.
In 1986 and again last June, Spain’s Justice Ministry rejected a petition by the Church of Scientology for accreditation as a legitimate religious institution on the grounds that the group’s activities ″negatively affected public health.″
The raid at a Madrid hotel was carried out after a nine-month police investigation, during which wiretaps indicated the group was planning an international meeting in the city, the judge said.
Vasquez Honrubia said those under arrest would be charged with fraud, illegal association, coercion, forgery of public documents, tax evasion and failure to meet social security payments.
He did not specify what type of forgery and fraud the organizers had engaged in, but news reports said at least one fraud charge stemmed from Narconon’s attempts to convince its drug addict clients to join the Church of Scientology as part of their treatment.
In a statement released Monday in Washington, the Church of Scientology condemned the raid as ″an outrageous act of injustice.″
″Whoever is behind these acts of harassment obviously stands to profit from increased drug proliferation and addiction,″ the statement said.
According to information distributed by the organization, the Church of Scientology has offices in 30 countries.
Litigation is pending against the organization in the United States, where it was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986.
In 1984, the U.S. government began an investigation of Hubbard’s tax returns after the Internal Revenue Service said it suspected millions of dollars in church funds had been transferred to Hubbard to protect the church’s tax-exempt status and to avoid paying taxes.
Scientologists said the FBI, the CIA, the IRS and other government agencies took part in a conspiracy to harass the organization in violation of its religious freedom.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case. A ruling is likely to be handed down by July.