Sydney, Australia - KEVIN Rudd raised concerns about the Church of Scientology yesterday, as NSW police began investigating complaints from seven former Scientologists.
The Prime Minister said he intended to examine allegations against the church before deciding whether to back independent senator Nick Xenophon's demand for a Senate inquiry.
Senator Xenophon told parliament on Tuesday that Scientology was a "criminal organisation" hiding behind religion.
In response to that statement, Mr Rudd said the senator was making "grave allegations".
"Many people in Australia have real concerns about Scientology," he told reporters in Bungendore yesterday. "I share some of those concerns. But let us proceed carefully, and look carefully at the material which he has provided, before we make a decision on further parliamentary action."
The State Crime Command of NSW Police yesterday confirmed that Senator Xenophon had handed over the ex-Scientologists' complaints for investigation.
The letters - tabled in the Senate - allege abuses including coerced abortions, assault, imprisonment, the covering up of sexual abuse, the embezzlement of church funds and blackmail.
Scientology spokesman Cyrus Brooks yesterday said Senator Xenophon's claims were unfounded.
"It seems that Senator Xenophon made no effort to obtain any proof to back the allegations presented to him by disgruntled former members," he said.
"Instead, Senator Xenophon, under parliamentary privilege, made a series of allegations that were untruthful."
Mr Brooks said Senator Xenophon had ignored a church invitation to meet to discuss the allegations. A spokesman for Senator Xenophon yesterday confirmed the church had written to his office in July, but said office staff had not forwarded it to the senator.
Carmel Underwood, a former executive director of the Sydney branch of the church, who left Scientology in 1998, claims in her statement that Scientology executives covered up a case of child molestation, and pressured pregnant staff to abort their babies.
"There are many who are still suffering and being abused financially, physically and mentally, at the hands of the (church)," her letter, tabled in the Senate, states.
Her husband, Tim, wrote that he believed the church "conducts itself in a 'cult'-like manner". Kevin Mackey, a 46-year-old farmer and former Scientologist, wrote that the church sought cash donations from parishioners for "crimes" such as drinking alcohol or watching pornography.
He claimed that church officials had told him he needed to donate "to prevent such things as the mandatory drugging of schoolchildren by the evil psychiatrists or defeat Nazi psychs who were behind the German government's dislike of the church". He wrote that some Scientology divisions would seek donations of up to $100,000. "If they sensed any weakness of resolve, (they) would push until a parishioner would sell their house if required," his letter says. "I know of several people who were coerced into giving up inheritances and pushed to the point of bankruptcy from these actions."
Scientology , founded by by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1953, was granted tax-exempt status after the High Court ruled it a religion in 1983.