Scientology's headquarter in Hungary
David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology, during last year's opening of the new center in Budapest
Over 50 police officers surrounded the main office of the Church of Scientology in the Hungarian capital Budapest before conducting searches inside as part of an ongoing investigation into the movement.
Hungarian media reported citing authorities that the search was over “suspected misuse of personal information and other crimes,” but authorities refused to comment further as the operation was still live.
The well-funded group, founded by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, has spent millions of US dollars refurbishing a five-story, 6,000 square-meter building in central Budapest, according to local media. The former factory was opened in a highly-publicized ceremony last year by the movement’s leader, David Miscavige.
Scientology lost its status as an official religion in Hungary in 2011, and is treated as a profit-making venture by the authorities, who have repeatedly spoken out against the group.
The government has cracked down on what it perceives to be cults with the 2012 Church Act passed as a result in part of the government’s tussles with Scientology. The legislation reduced the number of recognized religions from over 300 to just 32.
Scientology has defended itself – saying that it is engaged in numerous education and anti-drug programs in the country.
Church of Scientology International spokeswoman Karin Pouw called the search "religious suppression under the guise of data protection."
The raid was "an outrageous and wholesale violation of the human rights of all Scientologists in the country," Pouw said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Outside of its Hollywood stronghold, where it is endorsed by celebrities such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology has repeatedly come under fire for its secrecy, vendettas against perceived enemies, and exploitation of followers and employees.