Authorities in Russia say a woman stole money given to her for dream homes and donated it to the Church of Scientology.
Ekaterina Zaborskikh allegedly stole 130 million rubles ($2 million) between 2012 and 2014 by selling Russians them apartments that were never built by her construction company, an indictment in St. Petersburg alleged last week, as reported by Komsomolskaya Pravda. Part of that money was funnelled to her church, prosecutors say.
Posters advertising the developments promised clients “affordable castles” in green neighborhoods by Zaborskikh’s construction company, Olimp, according to the paper. Instead, the would-be buildings are still holes in the ground. Websites advertising the Olimp projects now warn potential buyers that they will no longer be built, as the company has ceased its operations. (The company’s website is down.)
In 2014, a woman identified only as Anna told NTV that she had paid 2.5 million rubles for an apartment and was told that construction would start imminently. The project was then frozen, and she eventually found out that the company had never gotten approvals for the construction.
At the time, an attorney for Olimp, the construction company, said that his client had not yet been charged.
Prosecutors say Zaborskikh gave the cash into the Moscow Church of Scientology disguised as donations.
In January 2015, authorities raided the Moscow church to analyze financial documents.
“Detectives in Saint Petersburg found that some of the stolen funds had been transferred to the account of this religious organization in Moscow,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs told the channel Rossiya. “The suspect is a member of this organization. The investigation does not exclude possible involvement in this crime on the part of officials and coordinators of this religious organization.”
But church officials denied involvement with the scheme.
“This search was related to a business located in St. Petersburg,” Natalya Alekseeva, a public relations director for the Moscow church, told the channel Rossiya. “This matter has no connection with the Church of Scientology in Moscow.”
The raid, however, was only the start of Scientology’s problems in Russia. A Moscow court banned the church in November over its American trademark of its name.
“The representatives of the Church of Scientology themselves have created many legal conflicts by restricting the religious freedom through the use of trademarks,” Russia’s Ministry of Justice said, according to RT. “So it turns out a commercial partnership was spreading the religion, while religion can only be spread by religious organizations.”
But not to be deterred, the Church vowed to appeal and said its trademarks were no different from those appearing on copies of the Bible or the Quran. The European Court of Human Rights has, in fact, ruled in favor of Scientology several times.
“This is the only Church of Scientology in Russia,” attorneys told RT. “If it is liquidated, the country’s scientologists would not be able to confess in Russia, because the priest would not be protected by the seal of confession.”