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A French appeals court on Thursday upheld the Church of Scientology's 2009 fraud conviction on charges it pressured members into paying large sums for questionable remedies.

The case began with a legal complaint by a young woman who said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of euro21,000 ($28,000) on books, courses and "purification packages" after being recruited in 1998. When she sought reimbursement and to leave the group, its leadership refused to allow either. She was among three eventual plaintiffs.

"It's a severe defeat for the Church of Scientology, which is hit at the very heart of its organization in France," Olivier Morice, a lawyer for the National Union of Associations Defending Family and Individual Victims of Sects, told reporters after the decision.

Karin Pouw, a spokeswoman for the church in Los Angeles, denounced Thursday's decision, calling it a "miscarriage of justice."

She said the group would appeal the decision to the Court of Cassation and plans to bring a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Another complaint is pending with a U.N. special rapporteur.

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