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Scientology Papers Inquiry Begins

July 21, 2000 GMT

PARIS (AP) _ Prosecutors opened an investigation Friday into the disappearance of hundreds of documents that were to be used as evidence in a case against Church of Scientology members, judicial officials said.

Authorities were expected in the coming days to name a special magistrate to carry out the investigation, the officials said, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.

The dossiers, which disappeared in 1998 from the Justice Ministry, were part of a case opened in 1990 against 16 regional Scientology leaders for alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence.

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The case stemmed from a complaint by a former Scientologist, Juan Esteban Cordero, who accused the Church of Scientology of ``progressive mental conditioning″ that led him to spend more than $177,000 on Scientology-related courses.

In June, the ministry said it had asked the judicial watchdog organization to investigate Judge Marie-Paule Moracchini, who was handling the Scientology case when certain records were lost and others destroyed. She risks possible disciplinary sanctions.

Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou has said she believed fraud was involved in the dossiers’ disappearance.

The Church of Scientology’s French headquarters could not be reached for comment late Friday.

France has long had a contentious relationship with the Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology, which is seeking recognition as a legitimate religion in Europe. In France, the Church of Scientology figures on a list of 173 groups that should be tracked to prevent cult activities.

A Paris court decided in September to go ahead with the case against the Scientologists despite the loss of the documents.