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Media Articles - 1980s

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Church of Scientology threatens to sue judge

By Sarah Nicholson

November 24, 1988

A spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology threatened to sue a Spanish judge who ordered the Los Angeles-based leader of the sect jailed pending an investigation into charges ranging from fraud to tax offenses.

In ordering the immediate imprisonment of Heber Jentzsch, 53, magistrate Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia said Wednesday the sole aim of the Church of Scientology, which claims 6 million members in 66 countries, was to make quick money.

But Jentzsch, the international leader of the church, told reporters before entering the judge's chamber Wednesday that he was the victim of "the new Spanish Inquisition."

Police rounded up Jentzsch and 70 other leaders of the church from 15 countries Sunday as they attended an international Scientology convention at a luxury hotel in downtown Madrid.

The sweep culminated a nine-month investigation, which included the use of
wiretaps, into the church's activities in Spain. Police raids in seven cities
produced hundreds of documents and bookkeeping records.

Edith Buchele, the church's chief officer for international affairs, told reporters, "My reaction is that we will sue this judge immediately because this investigation is illegal. Mr. Jentzsch has never been in Spain (before), so how could he have done anything in Spain?"

Forty-nine of the church members were released after questioning and 11 foreign Scientologists were expelled from the country. Eight Spaniards have been jailed in the case, and two foreign Scientologists were sent to jail Wednesday before Jentzsch came before the judge.

Vazquez Honrubia said he ordered the immediate imprisonment of Jentzsch for his alleged involvement in illicit association, coercion, fraud, labor law violations and tax offenses.

If convicted Jentzsch could be sentenced to more than 30 years in jail. But the maximum prison time served in Spain is 30 years, legal sources said.

The judge also said he froze $1.75 million in church assets in Spain and that an investigation of alleged capital flight by the church would continue.

Vazquez Honrubia said Jentzsch, a Los Angeles resident, was not initially eligible for bail but that it might be granted by a higher court later.

"This process could last months or even years," he said, adding that a higher court would handle the case. Spanish law allows a judge to order provisional imprisonment until an inquiry is concluded.

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1953 by the late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The Spanish news media said the sect had between 200 and 300 followers in Spain.

Vazquez Honrubia said the group's sole aim was to make quick money under the guise of an altruistic organization. He described the church's drug rehabilitation program, Narconon, and the church's spiritual branch as "similar to a pyramid scheme for making money and getting new recruits for making more money."

The judge said many ex-addicts were brainwashed and forced to proselytize for the church, and he said the sect's books showed earnings of $701,000 for 1986 despite its claims to be a non-profit group.

Jentzsch said he told the judge, "We are humanitarians, we are concerned about false information from Interpol," the international police agency.

Earlier Wednesday, Buchele accused Interpol of sending false reports to the Spanish government.

"I'd say that the present attack can only have come from those vested interests who make a lot of money off drugs," Buchele told reporters, adding that Interpol should fight drug runners rather than infiltrate Narconon.

Buchele said the Church of Scientology, which has not been granted status as a church by the Justice Ministry, "centers on man as a spiritual being and not as a piece of meat."

Also Wednesday, the judge jailed two other foreign Scientologists, Tim Gerald Thomas, 42, of Boston and U.S.-born South African Harry Ronstat, court sources said. A defense lawyer said he did not know the exact charges against them.

Among the 11 people expelled from Spain were Scientologists from the United States, Britain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Denmark.