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Former cult chief jailed for fraud

The Times, 16 November 1999

From Charles Bremner In Paris

Five former officials of the Church of Scientology in southern France were convicted of fraud yesterday.

Xavier Delamare, who formerly headed the group in southeastern France, was sentenced to two years in jail with 18 months suspended and fined 10,000. Four other former members were given lesser suspended sentences. Delamare, 42, was released as he had spent 17 weeks in pre-trial detention. Two other former Scientologists were acquitted.

Those who were convicted - who have now left the organisation - were found guilty of extracting sums of money from gullible people, who signed on for courses in "spiritual purification". In one case of what the prosecution called a "monstrous swindle", a man was persuaded to spend £3,000 on an "electrometer", an instrument used by Scientologists to identify zones of "mental distress".

The group denounced the trial in Marseilles as a political lynching, carried out in a "climate of religious McCarthyism". The sentences were the third set of convictions since 1978 by French courts against officers of the controversial organisation, which said yesterday that it was being persecuted and was appealing to international human rights organisations against the actions of the French state.

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