MARSEILLE, France (AP) - A French court found five members of the Church of Scientology guilty of fraud today, a setback for the group's efforts to become recognized in France as a religion, not a sect.
A court in the southern city of Marseille gave regional Scientology leader Xavier Delamare a two-year sentence. He will not go to jail, however, because the court suspended 18 months of the sentence and credited him with six months for time he served in 1990. He was also fined $1,700.
Four other Scientologists received suspended prison sentences of six months to two years, while two others were acquitted.
``The entire case from start to finish has been politically motivated,'' the Scientologists said in a statement on the verdict.
``This has been 10-year trial by Inquisition for the defendants,'' the statement said. The Scientologists said they would continue to bring the case to the attention of international human rights organizations.
Delamare's lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, said his client would take his time before deciding whether to appeal.
The verdict marked the culmination of an inquiry that began in 1990 against regional Scientology leaders in Marseille and Nice for alleged fraud, illegal practice of medicine and premeditated violence. The case grew out of complaints by a former Scientologist.
The Scientologists were accused of allegedly accepting money for sham ``purification'' treatments that included going to a sauna, running races and being given massive doses of vitamins.
The treatment proposed by the Scientologists cost between $2,000 and $25,000.
In a statement issued last week in Los Angeles, the Scientologists said they had asked the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists to look into French efforts ``to prejudice the rights of minority religious members to a fair trial in France.''
The Scientologists already have appealed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for help in their goal of dissolving the French government's anti-sect unit.
The Church of Scientology has complained of discrimination in France, where they said members have been refused the right to open bank accounts and teachers have been fired on the basis of their affiliation with Scientology.
In France, the Church of Scientology is registered on a list of 173 groups to be tracked to prevent cult activity. It long has been working to become recognized as a religion, not a sect in France.
Many Europeans have been skeptical of Scientology, whose prominent members include actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.
Founded in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Los Angeles-based organization teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.