Judge Jails Scientology Head For Suspected Fraud, Tax Evasion
MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A judge ordered the head of the Church of Scientology International jailed on Wednesday pending possible indictment on charges of fraud, criminal association and tax evasion.
Judge Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia said it would be at least a week before Heber Jentzsch of Los Angeles sees a second judge about setting bail.
He told reporters Jentzsch was being sent to Carabanchel Prison outside Madrid and said the legal process could take months or even years before it reaches trial.
Vazquez Honrubia said authorities had frozen $1.76 million in bank accounts belonging to officials of the U.S.-based Church of Scientology and the church’s drug rehabilitation program, Narconon.
″There is obvious and evident tax fraud here,″ the judge said.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Meade said Gerald Finn of Boston also was jailed pending further investigation and two other Americans were awaiting expulsion.
Meade did not identify the two, but court records listed them as Nancy Webcyk and William Tucker, believed to be husband and wife.
Edith Buchele, a West German residing in Los Angeles, said the organization would sue the judge immediately ″because his orders are illegal.″
She identified herself at a news conference earlier Wednesday as chief officer in the church’s Office of Special Affairs.
Vazquez Honrubia ordered a police raid on an international meeting in Madrid Sunday of members of the organization, following a nine-month investigation into complaints by Spaniards that they had been bilked.
The judge told reporters after questioning all 71 people arrested in the raid that 11 were jailed pending further investigation or indictment; 10 were ordered expelled and 50 were released.
He held a news conference in a room in Madrid’s 21st District Court filled with documents, computers and other equipment confiscated during raids Sunday on offices of the church and Narconon.
Spanish television showed Jentzsch, a former Hollywood actor, giving the V sign for victory in a court passageway during a break in his questioning.
Other foreigners ordered expelled included two Britons, two Italians, one French, one Swiss, one Swede and one Dane, the organization’s attorney in Spain, Jose Luis Chamorro, said.
Spain’s Justice Ministry twice refused to grant the organization legal status as a religious entity.
″Mr. Jentzsch has never been in Spain before, so how could he have committed any crime,″ Ms. Buchele protested.
She said, ″He (the judge) has listed no facts so far, and he has not stated any crimes, either. The action ... has nothing to do with justice but reminds us of the Spanish Inquisition.″
The Church of Scientology, founded in the mid-1950s by American science fiction author and former U.S. Navy officer L. Ron Hubbard, has its European headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark.
It has legal status in Britain and France and operates in other European countries.
The Narconon drug rehabilitation centers have come under attack by critics who complain of high fees and unorthodox programs.
″One would assume the government would be interested in any form of drug rehabilitation and any group″ that tries to solve the problem, Ms. Buchele said.
Heroin addiction is a serious problem in Spain, particularly among 18-to- 25-year-olds, 45 percent of whom are unemployed and never held a job.
Few officially sanctioned, medically supervised drug rehabilitation centers operate in the country.
″The present attack can only come from those vested interests who are making a lot of money out of drugs,″ Ms. Buchele charged.
Several lawsuits are pending in the United States against the church, involving its tax-exempt status and burglaries of offices of the Internal Revenue Service.
In Sweden, police are investigating 195 people who have defaulted on loans totalling about $10 million believed to have been taken out to finance Scientology courses.