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French Court Convicts Church of Scientology for Fraud

Members of the Church of Scientology, protest outside Paris courthouse in Paris, Feb. 2, 2012.

A Paris court has fined the Church of Scientology in France for fraud and handed five of its members fines and suspended sentences. Scientology critics are calling the decision historic - while the church says it will appeal to France's highest court.

The appeals court ruling confirms a 2009 fraud charge that the Church of Scientology in France pressured its members to pay for books, courses and so-called "purification remedies" or questionable medical treatments. It fined the church and its bookshop a total of 600,000 euros or nearly $800,000.

The court also handed suspended sentences and fines to five Scientologists. That included Alain Rosenberg, the head of the French church, who received a two-year suspended sentence and a fine of nearly $40,000.

The church's spokesman in France was not available for comment. But a spokeswoman in the United States told the Associated Press news agency the church would appeal to France's highest court of Cassation, and the European Court of Human Rights.

Lawyer Olivier Morice of UNADFI, a national association fighting religious sects in France, hailed the verdict as historic.

Maurice told French radio the verdict paved the way for other legal decisions that may lead to the church's dissolution in France. He said many European countries had been waiting for the verdict - notably Germany and Belgium, which currently have legal proceedings against the Church of Scientology.

Founded in the United States nearly 60 years ago, the Church of Scientology is legally a religion in the United States, Sweden and Spain. It has a number of celebrity members, including American actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

But in France, Belgium and Germany, Scientology is considered a sect or cult and viewed with suspicion.