The Church of Scientology has fallen on hard times over the past decade as membership growth has slowed due to the many scandals and shocking revelations about the church, its doctrine and the lengths that leaders will go to punish apostates. Now, the Church can add another problem to its steadily growing list: Crossing the Russian government.
The Moscow Times reported Friday that Russian security forces had raided the offices of the Church of Scientology in Moscow and St. Petersburg a day earlier, purportedly in connection with a probe into a scheme to defraud homebuyers carried out by the Church. Investigators believe the church illegally transferred around 3 billion rubles ($45.6 million) to its headquarters in the US.
The news service for the state security agency, the FSB, reported that investigators believe the money was raised during seminars and training sessions held without a license, with between 3 million and 4 million rubles ($45,000 to $61,000) being raised every week in St. Petersburg.
"Early indications say more than 400 co-investors were defrauded out of around 800 million rubles [$12.3 million]," Interfax quoted St. Petersburg and Leningrad region police as saying.
Investigators reportedly opened the case in June 2017.
This isn't the first time the Church has been raided by Russian authorities. Its St. Petersburg office has been raided at least three times before, once in 2017 and twice in 2018.
According to Newsweek, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom determined in 2017 that Russia was one of the worst violators of religious freedom. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has also raised issues with Russia's crackdown on certain religious sects, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, who have been derided as "Extremists". This is believed to be due, in part, to the influence that the Orthodox Church has over Russian political life.
Watch a video of the raid below: