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More trouble for Scientology fundraising and recruitment in Europe

StuttgartIOFor today’s story, we turned to our helpful translators again for assistance with another article from the German press.

This item appeared in the weekly publication Kontext and provided some interesting history of Scientology in Stuttgart, saying that the local Scientologists have actually been “on the sidelines” as plans to replace a drab, poorly situated org with a gleaming new Ideal Org in a better location have stumbled, and part of the reason involves a mysterious Israeli entity.

The magazine drew on information from Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which keeps a close eye on Scientology. Earlier this month, we told you that the agency reported that Scientology is all but dead in Berlin. But Stuttgart has remained an area with more adherents of the organization.

“Stuttgart is attractive for Scientology because it’s the center of an economically strong region,” the federal agency told Kontext.

“Scientology hopes for easier access to politicians, business leaders, and opinion leaders,” Kontext writes. “In addition, there is the promise of greater financial benefits.”

The existing org, the magazine explains, is in a backwater, and plans for a decade have included moving to a more visible spot for an upgraded “Ideal Org.”

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In December 2010, Scientology spent 8 million euros for a commercial building at a busy intersection (see photo, above). A trade organization and a crafts association are in the same area or are planning construction, but neither had any idea that Scientology was planning to move in.

Scientology, it turns out, had been using a front to move into the area, and then ran into some troubles.

The company that purchased the new building was registered as “G. Stuttgart Properties, Ltd.” and was an Israeli entity. Its registered owner was a man named Gur Finkelstein.

Our longtime readers will recognize that name. Finkelstein was also used by Scientology leader David Miscavige as a front in order to purchase a sensitive building in Israel — the Alhambra theater building in Jaffa, the Arab neighborhood adjacent to Tel Aviv.

Finkelstein purchased the theater and then hired a builder to renovate it, without revealing that he was actually doing so for the Church of Scientology. Then, Finkelstein went bonkers.

Finkelstein ran into resistance from a local official who denied a request to expand the building’s footprint, so Finkelstein tried to have the official assassinated. He also hired a local Arab Muslim family to pose as Orthodox Jews and firebomb the theater, apparently so he could have further renovations made — renovations that he was skimming from. He was also accused of trying to kill the boyfriend of his ex-wife with a car bomb that detonated while his rival and a child were in the car, but didn’t kill anyone.

And after he was arrested and was sitting in custody, Finkelstein was charged again when, police say, he tried to arrange to get one of the witnesses against him killed.

 

Gur Finkelstein, left, with his attorney (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)

Gur Finkelstein, left, with his attorney (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)

 
All of that we wrote about three years ago. But the Kontext story says that Finkelstein was sentenced to prison just last month. We couldn’t find any confirmation of this, but we’d love to know if this is true.

Finkelstein’s crime spree ultimately didn’t stop the renovation of the Alhambra, which opened in 2012 to great fanfare from Miscavige.

In Stuttgart, meanwhile, the owner of the Ideal Org changed its name from “G. Stuttgart Properties Ltd.” to “R. Akiva Trust Holdings Ltd.,” and now the registered agent is a man named Yehuda Raveh — the attorney who represented Finkelstein in his criminal case, Kontext says.

But unlike in Israel, the building in Stuttgart is showing no signs of a renovation. “What the new owner is planning with the building remains unclear,” the article says.

While the building sits empty, others have inquired about purchasing it. The trade association nearby was interested, but they told Kontext that they were never able to make contact with the Israeli owners.

Last year, the federal watchdog agency says, Scientology’s international management sent a Sea Org team to Stuttgart to get some progress going, and put high pressure on the locals to recruit 150 employees to staff the future Ideal Org, but only about 130 were found.

“More often than had been previously seen, the local Scientologists were more visible in the street and posted more advertising in the area,” the article says.

But today, there’s still no real progress visible, and a local church spokesman said the federal agency was uninformed about what was really going on.

Meanwhile, city officials in Stuttgart are wary. “The plans of Scientology we do not know. We can’t comment on private real estate transactions,” said city spokesman Sven Matis.

“The opening of a new office in Stuttgart would, at first, create a spirit of optimism in Scientology,” says a report from the federal watchdog agency. “But Scientology has, internationally, been in a crisis for several years,” with membership and revenue declining.

We asked Mark Tordai, a former worker in Scientology’s Berlin org, for his thoughts on what was happening in Stuttgart. He sent us this response…

In 2006, the Stuttgart org put up some cash to buy a new building. While I was told that this building was not actually purchased, ‚Äčthere is evidence of David Miscavige showing off the building plans at a major event. I myself have a good recollection of this as I attended that event. After locating a new building and creating plans for its renovation, Miscavige dumped the project and decided to open Berlin instead. I worked with over two dozen staff members from the Stuttgart area. Most of these staff members claimed that Stuttgart should have gotten the Ideal Org because they have the largest number of Scientologists anywhere in Germany. Many clashed with local Berlin execs and many were declared for speaking out against making Berlin the Ideal Org, ahead of Stuttgart.

The Stuttgart org has, as you said, spent more than 10 years trying to get an Ideal Org in their city. However, they have been overshadowed by Berlin and the constant bad PR in the German media. Especially in local media. It will be interesting to see if Stuttgart ever gets their Ideal Org after so much hard work. My opinion is that I think there’s little enthusiasm from Miscavige and little backing from the Sea Org Reno project. Since Berlin is doing really poorly, both fiscally and PR-wise, as you reported recently, I can’t see any more org Ideal Orgs opening in Germany. It would be another PR nightmare for the church to do so.

Thanks for that report, Mark.

Judging by the church fliers we’ve been posting in our weekly Sunday feature, it sure seems like the big push for future Ideal Orgs is in the Western U.S. — particularly in the San Fernando Valley, San Diego, and Austin — and also in New Zealand and parts of Australia. But we rarely hear about Ideal Org fundraising projects in the Eastern U.S., where several buildings have been purchased and have seemingly been abandoned. Stuttgart seems to be in the same boat.

Could Scientology be giving up on major parts of the globe and focusing more and more on the last pockets where the few remaining wealthy donors are? We’re going to keep looking at this.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on July 22, 2014 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer

 

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