A Scientology fraud conviction in France, in which the secretive organization was fined more than $800,000 for preying on vulnerable followers, has been upheld by the nation's top appeals court.
On Wednesday, the Cour de Cassation rejected an appeal by the Church of Scientology which sought to overturn the 2009 "organized fraud" conviction, on the grounds that it had violated religious freedoms, France's AFP news service reported
The case stemmed from the complaints of two women in the late 1990s.
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The first woman claimed that in 1998 she had been coerced into giving 20,000 euros, now equivalent to a little more than $27,000, to the Church of Scientology for multiple products including an "electrometer" to measure mental energy, Britain's Telegraph reported
The second complaint, which also occurred in 1998, involves another woman who claimed she had been fired after she refused to undergo testing and enroll in Scientology courses as directed by her boss, who was a Scientologist.
The Church of Scientology weighed in on the verdict from its Los Angeles headquarters, calling it "an affront to justice and religious liberty," while accusing the French government of "anti-religious extremism," in a statement the AFP reported.
"The Court failed to address the fundamental violations of the human rights of each of the defendants that infected every level of this case," the Church of Scientology's statement read.
The organization will likely appeal the conviction to the European Court of Human Rights, as it vowed in its statement to pursue the matter "at the international level."
As a result of the conviction, the Church of Scientology, which operates two bookstores in Paris, must pay $812,000 in fines to the French government.
French lawmaker Georges Fenech, who heads the nation's parliamentary group on religious cults, praised the ruling.
"Far from being a violation of freedom of religion, as this American organization contends, this decision lifts the veil on the illegal and highly detrimental practices" of the group, Fenech said.
The conviction represents the first time the organization as a whole has been found guilty of a crime in France. In the past, individual Scientologists had been found guilty of other crimes, the AFP noted.
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The Church of Scientology is considered a religion in the United States, but the French government does not recognize it as such, defining it instead as a cult, the Telegraph reported.
Known for its following in Hollywood among celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, the Church of Scientology reports having some 12 million members worldwide, of which approximately 45,000 live in France. The organization was founded in 1954 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
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