German official on trial for suspected Scientology spying

(AP) -- A German official went on trial in Basel Tuesday in connection with a suspected attempt to spy on the Church of Scientology last year as part of Germany's scrutiny of the body.

This content was published on November 30, 1999 - 17:00

(AP) -- A German official went on trial in Basel Tuesday in connection with a suspected attempt to spy on the Church of Scientology last year as part of Germany's scrutiny of the body.

The German agent was arrested in Basel last April after meeting with two Swiss women, one of whom was also charged. Neither defendant has been named.

The agent is accused of breaking Swiss law by carrying out "illegal business for a foreign state" and working for an intelligence service.

Both offenses can carry jail sentences. The verdict was expected later Tuesday.

Germany apologized to Switzerland for the incident. The agent was released on bail of SFr25,000 ($16,000) after three days when the Baden-Württemberg state interior ministry guaranteed he would return to stand trial.

The agent, a former employee of the state's domestic intelligence surveillance arm, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has returned to regular police service.

The main prosecution witness is a Swiss local lawmaker, who says she tipped authorities off to the meeting. The German agent is suspected of soliciting her help in collecting information on the church.

Germany denies Scientology religious status. It contends that Scientology, which has branches both in Basel and nearby Freiburg, Germany, engages in coercive activities and is out to bilk its members.

The U.S. government, which has extended Scientology tax-free status as a religion since 1993, has criticized Germany's treatment of the Scientologists.

The church, which claims 8 million members worldwide, has mounted an advertising campaign denouncing German treatment of its 30,000 adherents, such as banning them from public jobs.

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