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France Investigates Scientology

September 8, 1999 GMT

MARSEILLE, France (AP) _ France’s Justice Ministry opened an investigation Wednesday after the discovery that some three tons of evidence to serve in an upcoming trial of Church of Scientology officials was destroyed.

``I will shed light on this malfunction,″ said Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou. ``Is it a mistake? Is it sabotage? It seems at first glance to have been an error.″

The Marseille prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the disposal of certain sealed files in late 1998 was the result of ``negligence″ by a court clerk and not an intentional act.

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France has long had a contentious relationship with Scientology, which is fighting to be recognized as a legitimate religion in Europe. France registers the Church of Scientology on a list of 173 groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities.

A Paris appeals court is expected to rule Sept. 29 on a similar case against the Church of Scientology in which evidence also disappeared.

The documents in the case relate to a probe opened in 1990 against regional Scientology leaders in the southern coastal cities of Marseille and Nice for alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence.

Seven of those leaders are scheduled to go on trial Sept. 20. The destruction of the evidence will not delay the trial, which had been put off in 1995 because of a procedural error, court officials said.

According to a lawyer representing the plaintiff, a former Scientologist, the evidence destroyed includes financial statements, notes concerning Scientology members and apparatus known as ``electrometers,″ designed to measure ``self-control.″

The lawyer, Jean-Michel Pesenti, raised doubts about the court contention that the files were accidentally destroyed.

``We can imagine anything. Why not an infiltration by Scientology,″ said Pesenti, lawyer for the National Union of Associations in Defense of Families and Individuals, known as UNADFI, which fights sects in France.

A statement from the Church of Scientology’s Los Angeles headquarters called UNADFI a ``French hate group,″ claiming it was ``trying to corrupt the integrity of the French judicial system″ with ``calumny″ implicating it in the disappearance of the evidence.

``We concur with the French minister of justice _ let’s have the whole truth,″ the statement said.

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.