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Belgian Scientologists go on trial for fraud and extortion

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The Belgian branch of the controversial Church of Scientology went on trial Monday facing a possible ban for fraud and extortion, charges it claims are meant to blacken its reputation.

The case opened in a packed Brussels courtroom where the prosecution demanded that the church, known internationally for superstar members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, explain where it got its financing.

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“The church’s revenues were roughly 5,000 euros a week; 2,000 came from the sale of books and videos and 3,000 from courses and training,” the Belga news agency quoted the group’s treasurer as saying.

The treasurer, who worked for the church until 2005, said she was not paid but was not required to pay the church fees, while her husband contributed about 10,000 euros ($11,000) for training.

The church stirs sharp divisions — critics say it is cult and a scam, while supporters say it offers much-needed spiritual support in a fast-changing world.

The Belgian authorities launched a first investigation in 1997 after several former members complained about its practices.

A second probe followed in 2008 when an employment agency charged that the church had made bogus job offers so as to draw in and recruit new members.

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The authorities as a result charged 11 members of the Belgian branch, plus two affiliated bodies, with fraud, extortion, running a criminal organisation and violating the right to privacy.

A conviction could lead to a ban.

Last week, the church said it had “no doubt” it would be cleared.

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“The Church of Scientology goes to court with the firm intention of seeing the fundamental rights of its Belgian members finally recognised,” it said in a statement on Friday.

“Not only does the Church contest the charges against it, which affect the fundamental rights of all Scientologists, it also intends to denounce the serious judicial abuses (against it) of the past 18 years,” it said.

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Headquartered in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

It is recognised as a religion in the United States and in other countries such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden, and claims a worldwide membership of 12 million.


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2020 Election

Here is why these Nevadans are betting on Sanders

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LAS VEGAS — Any doubts that Nevadans wouldn't show up for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were quickly squashed by the amount of people lined up to get into his Friday night rally in Las Vegas on the eve of the Nevada caucus: an estimated 2,020, according to his campaign. One would have been forgiven for assuming the crowd spilling out the main entrance and down the street had lined up to get into one of the city's hottest shows, not a "Get Out the Vote" event. Despite stereotypes that Sanders only draws support from the young (and mostly white), the crowd was visibly diverse in age, ethnicity and race. And anyone who didn't arrive already wearing the requisite Bernie gear had plenty of opportunities to buy some as they waited to enter the venue.

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Roger Stone’s dream of booting judge for sentencing comments brutally crushed by ex-US Attorney: ‘He’s met his match’

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Appearing on MSNBC on Saturday afternoon, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance crushed any hopes former Donald Trump associate Roger Stone might have that his prison sentence will be voided due to comments made by the presiding judge in his federal trial.

Speaking with host Alex Witt, Vance left no doubt Stone's latest legal gambit will collapse just like his previous attempts to squirm out of his trial did.

"Stone's legal team says that Judge Amy Berman Jackson's assertion that the jurors served with integrity shows bias," host Witt stated. "Do you buy that argument and legally would that be enough to get the judge dismissed from the case?"

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Commentary

You’re a frog in a pot and Donald Trump is turning up the heat

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

"Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal," reported The Washington Post this week. It's one element in "a post-impeachment escalation that administration officials say reflects a new phase of a campaign of retribution and restructuring ahead of the November election." It's unclear what criteria they are using to define loyalty to this president*, but it's important to understand a few things about this story.

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