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Analysis of the Russia raids

By Chris Owen posted to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology 26 Feb 1999.

Four Scientology offices in Moscow were raided on Thursday night by municipal police, the State Security Service and tax police forces, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. What lies behind this?

According to Reuters, the raid was carried out to check "everything from tax records to weapons." An unnamed police officer is quoted as saying, "Any organization can be inspected, any factory, any enterprise. Public organizations are in a special situation. Many don't pay taxes and get around customs."

Scientology's well-known creative attitude to taxation may well be an important factor behind the raid. Tax evasion in Russia has reached catastrophic proportions. To put this in perspective, the size of the official economy is now smaller than that of the Netherlands. The black economy by contrast is booming, with vast quantities of dodgy Russian money flowing overseas to tax havens such as the Channel Islands and especially Cyprus. Much of the Russian Government's cashflow problem is caused by its very low success rate in collecting unpaid taxes. The Government has made it a high priority to deal with this, and has embarked on an aggressive campaign to recover monies owed. Scientology has already run into tax problems - its St Petersburg org was fined 10,000 roubles for tax evasion.

However, the wide scope of the police search and especially the involvement of the FSB, the Federal Security Service, suggests that rather more is afoot.

The Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB) is the successor to the KGB. It was established following the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 25th 1991. The old-style KGB had responsibility for an enormous range of security functions, such as internal security, counter-espionage, special forces (the spetsnaz) and guarding the USSR's immensely long border. Although it survives almost intact in certain other former Soviet republics (such as Belarus and the Central Asian republics), in Russia it was broken up into a number of successor organisations of which the FSB is the largest.

Under a new law of April 3rd 1995, the FSB was tasked with general law enforcement functions - fighting crime and corruption - in addition to its previous security and counter-intelligence tasks. (This is part of a worldwide trend - Britain's MI5 was given a similar role around the same time.) Under this law, it can run its own jails, deploy its agents under cover of other government agencies, and with court permission, read people's mail and tap their telephones. It may recruit, protect, and pay without prosecutorial and judicial oversight informants in "contracts of confidential cooperation." External supervision (by the Procurator General and the Duma (Parliament)) is very limited.

The lead FSB agency involved in the Scientology case is almost certainly the Investigations Directorate. It was reestablished in 1995 to combat illegal trafficking in weapons and drugs, corruption, and crimes in the sphere of the economy and organized crime.

However, the FSB has also been used to attack perceived threats to the Yeltsin/Primakov regime, which is why their involvement in this case is so significant. The most prominent recent example has been that of Aleksandr Nikitin, a former naval officer arrested in St Petersburg in February 1996 and charged with high treason following the publication of a report by the Bellona environmental group into the horrendous nuclear pollution caused by the Russian Northern Fleet. The case was thrown out by the courts. The FSB has regularly targeted other environmental and human rights activitists, convicting some and raiding others.

Scientology's titular President, Heber C. Jentzsch, is quoted as having said that the raid is the result of a "campaign by extremist anti- American, anti-Western Russian officials in collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church." Much as I dislike the repulsive Jentzsch, he may actually be correct. Anti-Americanism in the Russian administration is certainly running high, particularly in the wake of NATO's formal enlargement next month and the increasing NATO presence in the Balkans. The Orthodox Church is extremely powerful and closely connected to the Russian establishment; it is also very much opposed to a wide range of "non-traditional" sects and cults which have sprung up in Russia in recent years, such as Aum Shinryko, Scientology and the Moonies. The Moscow Patriarchate has played a major role in trying to "educate" the Russian population about such movements. Elections are coming up in Russia next year, and bashing an unpopular organisation such as Scientology *would* be a cheap way of currying favour with the conservative elements of Russian society.

Scientology's line of attack is clear - according to a statement from the raided Moscow org, "Actions by the state to repress religious freedom do not allow Russia to move forward. On the contrary, Russia is moving backwards to totalitarianism." If past experience is anything to go by, Scientology will now seek to discover "conspiracies" amongst its Russian opponents, just as they "proved" that Interpol was run by neo- Nazis. It will be easier to come up with such theories in Russia than in some other countries:

So it's obvious: the raid on Scientology was provoked by a high-level conspiracy of KGB-connected figures!

Unfortunately, the state of Russian politics is such that this scenario cannot entirely be ruled out. What happens next will be the acid test, however. If criminal charges are brought, we can be pretty sure that the authorities intend at the least to curtail and possibly to close down Scientology, as happened in Greece. Otherwise, this may represent a shot across the bows of the organisation. It will be interesting to see how each side responds in the next few weeks and months.

   |           Chris Owen -            |
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