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Media Articles - 1980s

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Top Scientologist arrested in Spain

By Stephen Koff

St. Petersburg Times
November 22, 1988

Scientology's top leader has been arrested in Spain and is being questioned on matters that could bring charges of fraud and forgery, officials said.

The Rev. Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, was among 50 people rounded up and detained Sunday by police in Madrid after a nine-month investigation of the group, said Helga Soto, a press official at the Spanish Embassy in Washington.

No formal charges have been made against the church or its members.

On Monday, Scientology spokesmen condemned the raid as "an outrageous act of injustice."

The Church of Scientology has its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater and its business center in Los Angeles. Jentzsch, 53, of Los Angeles, was speaking at a Scientology conference at a luxury Madrid hotel when the raid occurred.

Police seized hundreds of pounds of documents at church offices across Spain - some of them showing that the group was registered as non-profit-making but in fact made profits of $666,000 in Spain alone in 1986.

"The real god of this organization is money," Judge Jose Maria Vasquez Honrubia said at a press conference late Sunday. He said the group made members pay progressively larger fees and threatened people who wanted to leave.

Scientology's leaders could be charged with belonging to an illegal organization, fraud, threats, public health offenses, tax evasion and possibly illegal export of currency, the judge said.

Jentzsch was being held "under judicial action" Monday, said Soto of the Spanish Embassy. He can be detained 72 hours without being charged, according to reporters in Spain. It was unclear Monday where Jentzsch was being detained but Soto said, "I think he is in jail."

Twenty-one of the 69 Scientologists originally arrested Sunday were released as Vasquez Honrubia began interrogating the Scientologists, Soto said. Foreign press reports gave varying figures for the number released. "They were from Portugal and just happened to be at this event," said Richard Haworth, a church spokesman in Los Angeles.

Scientology leaders are consulting with the Washington law firm Williams and Connolly. Kurt Weiland, the church's director for external affairs, was en route Monday from Los Angeles to Washington to meet with the lawyers. Gerald Feffer, a Williams and Connolly lawyer, would not comment publicly on Jentzsch or his defense. Before leaving Los Angeles, Weiland told United Press International, "We consider these charges unjust and harassive."

The Church of Scientology, which follows the writings of the late L. Ron Hubbard, is divided into a web of organizations, two of which - the Civil Dianetics Association and Narconon - are the subject of the Spanish investigation. Dianetics is the title of Hubbard's 1950 seminal book, which said that his new science of the mind could unseat deep-rooted psychological problems and lead to a better planet filledwith "clear" individuals.

Followers say their belief is a religion and call their organization a church. But in 1986 and again last June, Spain's Justice Ministry rejected a petition for religious accreditation, on the grounds that the group's activities "negatively affected public health."

"This group is not recognized in Spain as a church," said Soto. "It is a cultural organization."

The other group, Narconon, is a Scientologist-run drug treatment program based on a regimen of saunas and megavitamins. Vasquez Honrubia told reporters that the four Narconon centers in Spain were run by non-qualified staff.

Haworth said ulterior motives lurked behind these accusations. He would not specifically accuse the judge, but said, "Whoever is behind these actions stands to profit by increasing the drug proliferation and addiction expansion."

Critics of Scientology were jubilant about the Spanish action. "It's wonderful," said Priscilla Coates of the national Cult Awareness Network. Said Gabe Cazares, a former Clearwater mayor who in the late 1970s was targeted in a blackmail and smear campaign by Scientologists: "I am just delighted that other governments in foreign countries are more aware of the dangers of these destructive cults."

In the United States, 11 Scientologists were indicted in 1978 and later convicted on charges stemming from break-ins of government offices. Canadian officials conducted a similar investigation in 1983, and 15 Scientologists and the church are awaiting trial on criminal charges in Toronto.