(RNS) A Belgian court has ruled in favor of the Church of Scientology, rejecting allegations that it operated as a criminal organization and extorted money from members.
The acquittal on Friday (March 11) came after a lengthy investigation which the presiding judge, Yves Regimont, described as prejudiced and vague.
“The defendants were prosecuted primarily because they were Scientologists,” Regimont was quoted as saying by AFP.
Tight security was reportedly in force at the Palace of Justice in Brussels for the ruling. Charges weighed by prosecutors against the Church of Scientology included forming a criminal organization, fraud and extortion, Reuters said.
Belgium’s labor department reportedly claimed the church posted fake job advertisements in a bid to recruit members, while prosecutors also relied on testimony from former members.
The acquittal of the Church of Scientology and its individual members was welcomed by defense lawyer Pascal Vanderveeren. “This was a religious case and nothing else. If you’ve said that you’ve said it all,” he told Reuters.
The Church of Scientology is recognized as a religion in some nations, including the U.S. and Great Britain, though it has faced criticism and legal challenges in numerous other countries.
Founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, Scientology has attracted high-profile followers such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
(Rosie Scammell write for RNS from Rome)