Scientology Crime Syndicate

Police Seize [sic] Records at Center for Scientology
Moscow Times, 26 February 1999

By Natalya Shulyakovskaya
Staff Writer

The police officers armed with short automatic rifles and two vans stamped with "Prosecutor's Office" and "Tax Police" on their sides outside a Scientology center in northeast Moscow showed that something was wrong Thursday behind the center's glass doors.

In a daylong search of the Moscow Humanitarian Hubbard Center, prosecutors, tax police, investigators from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and regular policemen seized boxes full of paperwork and rummaged through personal files.

Police and prosecutors said they were investigating possible tax evasion and other financial improprieties by the Scientologists, a controversial international spiritual organization.

Alexei Danchenkov, the spokesman for the center, said police have been investigating the organization for more than six months. But the Scientologists, he said, believe the investigation is politically motivated.

"I think this is a plot by the highest levels of the FSB against our presence in Russia," Danchenkov said. "I think the Russian Orthodox Church has simply made a deal with the FSB to establish its own dominance here."

Russia has adopted a controversial law limiting the activities of "nontraditional" faiths, which has been used to crack down on religious groups.

Moscow prosecutors are currently seeking to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses in a court case that is being closely monitored by human rights activists.

The Scientologists are registered not as a religious group but as a nonprofit organization. Even so, the Scientologists see themselves as a religion, and the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church has listed Scientology as a destructive cult.

The warrant for Thursday's search was signed by the deputy prosecutor of the city's northeastern district, Pyotr Stolypin, a member of the prosecutor's team said.

Police arrived at about 8 a.m. at the center at 19A Ulitsa Borisa Galushkina, a former kindergarten that the Scientologists rent from the Saturn rocket-engine factory.

Throughout the day, as the search continued, teenagers attended Scientology classes and music blasted from gym, which was packed with people mingling and eating.

Spiritual leaders, teachers and workers struggled to maintain smiles, students clapped vigorously at the end of classes, and workers in green uniforms continued wiping floors. But in the center's offices, men in fatigues were going through the files and seizing records.

"We have prosecutors, FSB, tax police - they brought along every agency. The only ones they managed to forget are the firemen," said Alexander Shilov, one of the center's workers. As he was talking, another member of the group hissed at him and whisked him away.

"They are packing away everything, every single piece of paper they could lay their hands on," said Danchenkov, the center spokesman, visibly pale and shaking. "I am sorry, I have to go now, my office is being searched at the moment."

As he walked back to his office, law enforcement officers dragged three large cardboard boxes into it.

Danchenkov said the center had been raided before. "They took away files and files of documents. I don't think they have even opened them," he said.

A local policeman who stood at the door to the center wrote down the names, addresses and passport numbers of all members as they left the office.

Late into the evening, police and investigators were still at the center, going through the files and questioning the Scientology leaders one by one.

The Church of Scientology was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and is headquartered in Los Angeles. Hubbard's books, most prominently the basic Scientological text Dianetics, is published in more than 30 languages and distributed in over 100 countries, where the group claims to have 8 million adherents.

Scientology - a tightly organized group - calls itself a religion and is registered as such in the United States and Australia. European countries have largely refused to grant Scientology a tax-free religious status and the group has faced a number of high profile trials, particularly in Germany and France. Some of its more famous members include Hollywood stars like Demi Moore, John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

Since the end of Soviet religious persecution, Scientology has made impressive inroads into Russia. The presentation party for the Russian edition of Dianetics took place in the Kremlin, and Moscow State University for several years had an L. Ron Hubbard Reading Room, which was closed last year.

The Humanitarian Hubbard Center was opened in Moscow in 1993 and was the second such center in Russia. The first one was opened in St. Petersburg. The center holds classes on Scientological teaching, charging from 250 to 500 rubles ($11 to $22 at Friday's official rate) a month for the spiritual self-improvement classes. As many as 200 students attend its weekly classes, Danchenkov said. The center sells a large quantity of books written by Hubbard and collects memberships dues from its members.

Scientologists' center in St. Petersburg also went through a round of legal troubles, Danchenkov said, adding that it recently had to pay a fine of about 10,000 rubles for tax violations.

Top-level executives in some Russian regions have gone through Scientology's Hubbard Colleges, which provide management training according to the group's methodology. When former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko was a private banker in Nizhny Novgorod, he put all of his management through the program.

As the search was under way at the Moscow center, Vladimir Turov, the deputy head of the city's Balashikha district administration who has been a student of Scientology since 1995, stood in the hallway denouncing the seizures of personal files.

"No one can take away a member's and student's personal files! They have no right to do this." he said in a grave but even voice.

Turov said his wife, sister and nieces and nephews have all attended Scientology classes.

"There simply could be no serious reasons for this investigation. Besides, the issue here is not whether we are good or bad, but about legal questions," he said. "We have got to stop bacchanalia, otherwise next will come purges for saying a wrong word, thinking a wrong thought or reading a wrong book."

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