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French prosecutor seeks dissolution of Scientology

 A man passes by the entrance to the Church of Scientology in Paris May 25,2009. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes - Reuters
A man passes by the entrance to the Church of Scientology in Paris May 25,2009. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
— image credit: Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) - A French prosecutor on Monday recommended a Paris court should dissolve the Church of Scientology's French branch when it rules on charges of fraud against the organization.

Registered as a religion in the United States, with celebrity members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology enjoys no such legal protection in France, where it has faced repeated accusations of being a money-making cult.

The Church's Paris headquarters and bookshop are defendants in a fraud trial that began on May 25. Summing up her views on the case, state prosecutor Maud Coujard urged the court to return a guilty verdict and dissolve the organization in France.

The Church of Scientology denies the fraud charges and says the case against it violates freedom of religion.

A ruling is expected within months.

French state prosecutors had previously resisted the idea of an outright dissolution of Scientology in the country.

If the court follows the prosecutor's recommendation, Scientology could appeal and the verdict would be suspended.

The trial centers on complaints made in the late 1990s by two former members who spent huge sums on Scientology courses and "purification" sessions.

(Reporting by Thierry Leveque, editing by Estelle Shirbon and Richard Balmforth)

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