PARIS, May 25 (RIA Novosti) - The Church of Scientology went on trial in a Paris court on Monday on charges of fraud, following a suit filed by a woman who says the church manipulated her into parting with her savings.
The organization, which is banned in neighboring Germany, is considered a sect by France. The trial is the first in France in which the Church itself has stood as the defendant, rather than individual members.
The hearings will last three weeks, and could lead to a complete ban of the organization in the country.
The plaintiff, whose name has not been released, said the problems began when she was out for a walk, and was approached and offered a free 'personality test'. As part of the standard Scientology indoctrination process, various aids were offered to solve her problems.
The woman says she was pressured into spending all her savings on dubious medicine, Scientology literature, and a device called an e-meter. Her lawyers will seek to prove that organized criminal fraud is integral to the Church of Scientology's practices.
Lawyers representing the Church said they will contest the allegations, and argue that the charges amount to religious discrimination.
The Church was founded by American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, and has been the subject of controversy around the world.
The e-meter used by the Church of Scientology purports to measure, among other things, the number of 'body thetans' present in an individual. According to Scientology doctrine, thetans are the souls of aliens brought to planet Earth by Xenu, dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, 75 million years ago, and destroyed in a series of H-bomb explosions.
The U.S. and some other countries recognize the Church of Scientology as a religious organization. The U.S. State Department has criticized Western European nations for 'discrimination' against Scientologists in depriving them of religious freedom.
The organization claims to have over eight million members worldwide.