Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie were targeted by Hollywood actor Tom Cruise and former President Bill Clinton to give tax breaks to the controversial Church of Scientology, it is revealed today.
Clinton and Cruise plotted for months to overturn a legal ruling which refused to grant Scientology charity status in Britain. At one point the former President suggested he directly approached Cherie Blair for help as ‘she was a practising lawyer and would understand the details'.
These astonishing claims were made by former Scientology second in command Marty Rathbun on German TV who described sitting in the room at the Scientology base in Clearwater, Florida in 2003 with Tom Cruise when he called the former President. ‘It wasn’t just one call it was many’, Rathbun confirmed later.
He said that the Hollywood star and the former President, then involved in raising funds for his own Clinton Foundation charity, spoke many times on how best to lobby the Prime Minister and his wife so that they could use their influence to change Scientology’s charity - and hence tax status - in Britain.
Scientology leader David Miscavige (left with Cruise) was, says Rathbun, fanatical about this issue. He knew that Cruise, who had recently renewed his attachment to Scientology after his split from Nicole Kidman in 2001, was desperate to be awarded the first ever International Association of Scientology Freedom Medal of Valor. Miscavige told him that if he was successful it was his for the taking. Cruise was subsequently given the award he coveted at an elaborate awards ceremony in November 2004 at Saint Hill Manor, Scientology’s British headquarters.
Before he was given the award Cruise lobbied Clinton at every opportunity, meeting him for dinner at the Hollywood homes of director Steven Spielberg and producer David Geffen. He called him numerous times at his Foundation office in Harlem, New York, to work out the most effective strategy to overturn a 1999 Charity Commission ruling that Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1954, was not a charity and was not eligible for tax breaks.
Rathbun, who was the Inspector General of the Religious Technology Centre until 2004, said that he would audit Cruise - the Scienotology equivalent to the confessional - and then he would call Clinton or his staff in Harlem. ‘There was a lot of back and forth’, he recalled. ‘At one point Clinton said to Tom that it would be better to go through Cherie Blair as she was a lawyer and had a tax background’.
Subsequently Rathbun’s management colleague, Mike Rinder, the chief spokesman for Scientology, prepared briefing papers and publicity material to lobby British politicians and administrators. No expense was spared in the effort to win tax concessions from the British government - as Rathbun points out the Church of Scientology currently has a war chest of $1 billion dollars, much of it kept in off-shore tax havens like Jersey, Lichenstein and Switzerland.
While not successful so far in winning charity status, the campaign to earn tax breaks for the church in Britain has paid handsome dividends. The church, which has faced constant criticism for harassing former members, breaking up families, financial exploitation and the violent behaviour of the church’s diminutive leader David Miscavige, has successfully lobbied several local councils, notably Westminster, the City of London, Sunderland and Birmingham, where they have properties.
These dubious decisions to give generous concessions on council tax rates has angered the Government’s community secretary Eric Pickles. In a statement he said:
"Tolerance and freedom of expression are important British values, but this does not mean that the likes of Church of Scientology deserve favoured tax treatment over and above other business premises.
"The Church of Scientology is not a registered charity, since the Charity Commission has ruled that it does not provide a public benefit. Nor are its premises a recognised place of worship.
"Councils may award charitable relief. They should take into consideration the Charity Commission's rulings when weighing up whether to do so.
"I do not believe the majority of the public would want their own council to be giving special tax breaks to such a controversial organisation."
However the City of London Corporation granted the Scientology's London headquarters on Queen Victoria Street mandatory 80% rates relief on the grounds that it is "a charity or other organisation established for charitable purposes" and that "the property is wholly or mainly used for charitable purposes."
The centre was opened in 2006 in a lavish ceremony attended by Tom Cruise. From 2006 until the end of the current tax year, the City of London tax break amounts to at least £1.3m in savings for Scientology. It is not known what role if any was played by Prime Minister Tony Blair or his wife in securing these concessions.
Scientology in Britain has a long and chequered past. In the 1970s Harold Wilson’s government described the sect as ‘mafia like’ and put senior officials under surveillance. In 1975, internal correspondence from the Home Office said: ‘The Church of Scientology does not merely persuade people to part with their money. It is a harmful movement with an evil reputation.’
It classified the group as ‘an organisation designed to make money, and perhaps also to gain power’ which targeted ‘the anxious, the lonely, the inadequate, the credulous and deluded’.
In a High Court ruling in 1984, Judge Latey labelled the Church of Scientology a "cult", "corrupt, sinister and dangerous...out to capture people...and brainwash them."
To read more about the British government’s concerns about Scientology, please read the Daily Mail's coverage.
Below is the German program interviewing Marty Rathbun about Scientology: