BELGIAN federal prosecutors are preparing to bring charges, including fraud and extortion, against the Church of Scientology as a "criminal organisation", according to press reports.
Charges of fraud, illegal medicine, breaches of privacy and extortion have been drawn up against the church and two senior executives, 'De Tijd', Belgium's financial newspaper, has reported.
"The subpoenas have only just been sent to the Scientologists," the newspaper reported.
The charges are said to relate to employment contracts issued to recruit volunteers and members in breach of Belgium's strict employment laws.
Prosecutors are investigating claims of extortion of members, the illegal use of "pseudo-medicine" and the keeping of records that contravene privacy laws.
A spokesman for the church's Brussels headquarters said: "Unfortunately, we have not received anything from the prosecutor's office yet. The media have been informed, we have not."
Scientology's rejection of many medical practices and its psychological "auditing" techniques of recruits, including the taking of personal records, have long been controversial. In February this year, a French appeals court upheld fraud charges and a €600,000 fine against the Church of Scientology in France for talking its recruits into paying large sums for bogus personality tests and cures.
The movement, which has actor Tom Cruise as its figurehead, has been under investigation in Belgium for 15 years without any charges being brought against the organisation, which is viewed as a cult in many European countries.
While Scientology is regarded as a religion in the United States, Italy and Spain, it is not recognised as a church in other European countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and Britain. (© Daily Telegraph, London)