When I was a teenager, I had something of a crush on Tom Cruise. Come on, ladies of my age: you remember him dancing in his undies in 1983 hit movie “Risky Business”. What finally cured me of my infatuation was not his performance in “Cocktail” or his marital history (although both should have done it) but his conversion to – and speedy elevation through the ranks of – the Church of Scientology. Now I’m generally religiously very tolerant; an atheist myself, I’m happy for anyone to believe anything that, as they say, gets you through the night. (My own coping mechanism for dark nights of the soul? I go through the plots of favourite books and movies.) But Scientology is something altogether different, not least because in 1955 its founder, L Ron Hubbard, decided to target celebrities for conversion in order to “forward the expansion and popularisation of Scientology through the arts”. Gloria Swanson was an early celebrity trophy, and today they have little Tom, and John Travolta. And suspected money laundering.
Ah yes, did I mention that? About a week ago, the Federal Security Service of Russia raided fourteen Church of Scientology offices in Moscow and St Petersburg, seizing documents to assist its investigation into fraudulent financial gain by the church (by seeking donations as a religious organisation, while not recognised as one in Russia – it was awarded the status of a religious organisation in the US in 1993) and money laundering. The laundering is connected not just with the alleged fraud, but with ordinary crimes of its adherents. In April 2016, for instance, authorities detained Ekaterina Zaborskikh for allegedly stealing large sums from apartment buyers in St Petersburg; between 2012 and 2014 it is alleged that her construction company promised to build “affordable castles”, which never appeared. Financial records suggest that the money was instead donated to the Church of Scientology in Moscow. I’ve had a quick look at the church’s news website, but there’s no mention of the laundering allegations – although I am pleased to see that “advanced Scientologists” had a fab time kicking up their heels on their cruise ship, Freewinds, in Barbados. I wonder if Justin Welby has thought of asking parishioners to cough up for a ship – he could anchor it in Herne Bay.