European rights court orders France to pay four million euros to sects

The European court ordered the French exchequer to pay 3,636,437 euros to two groups set up by the Aumism cult, founded by Gilbert Bourdin in 1969 and based at the “holy city” of Mandarom in the French Alps.

The two groups collected money for the construction of temples at Mandarom, which was already host to a 22-metre statue of Buddha Maitreya, and a 21-metre statue of "Cosmic Christ" wielding a sword and shield.

A 33-metre statue of Bourdin was built in 1990 but pulled down in 2000 after its construction was deemed to have been illegal.

The court also ordered the payment of 387,722 euros to the Evangelical Missionary Church of Eric Salaûn.

The two sects contested taxation of donations given by their members in collections – to the tune of 2,537,000 euros and 280,000 euros respectively – claiming that, as religions, donations should be tax-exempt.

Their case followed the European court’s ruling against a 45-million-euro tax bill for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who argued that the French state was trying to suppress their activities by fiscal means.

Bourdin, also known as His Holiness Lord Hamsah Manarah, was accused of rape by a former member of his cult but died in 1998 before the case came to court.

Anti-sect campaigner and former Socialist MP Catherine Picard slammed the court’s decision.

“These groups know that, whatever they do, whatever sectarian excesses they get up to, the European court will back them up,” she said on Thursday.