Scientology cross
The Church of Scientology crossGetty images

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) conducted simultaneous raids on 21 June at the Church of Scientology's offices in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Officials seized documents in the raids, as part of an investigation into the religion's alleged money laundering in Russia, reported official news agency RIA Novosti. During the 21 June operation, the FSB conducted raids on 14 addresses in Moscow and St Petersburg, seizing financial documents, computer hard drives and notebooks of church members, an FSB source told RIA.

In 2015 a Moscow court banned the Church's Moscow branch, ruling that the Church of Scientology does not comply with Russian laws on freedom of religion as it used its operations for financial gain. The ruling was backed by the Russian Ministry of Justice.

Founded by sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard in the US in 1954, the Church of Scientology is well known for its celebrity adherents – including Hollywood actor Tom Cruise. However, it is denounced by its critics as a cult and money-making racket.

In April, authorities arrested church member Ekaterina Zaborskikh, as part of an investigation into alleged property fraud. Investigators claim that Zaborskikh ran a fraudulent operation, between 2012 and 2014, selling apartments that did not exist and laundering the money through church accounts as donations. It is believed that stolen funds were transferred to the Church of Scientology's account in Moscow.

The Moscow court also ruled that the organisation's trademark registration in the United States contradicted its claim to be a religion.

Investigators are also probing the organisation for alleged tax evasion. In St Petersburg, 10 church members were taken in for questioning.

Russian Church of Scientology spokeswoman Natalya Alekseeva condemned the raids, and claimed the organisation is working "for the good of the country" by sending members out to help tackle social problems, Russia Today reported.

The Church of Scientology's Representative in Moscow, Vladimir Kuropyatnik, said in a statement: "The Church of Scientology decried today's actions by the FSB in St. Petersburg and Moscow as the heavy-handed religious persecution of peaceful and law-abiding people.

"It is a disease of our society when government agencies charged with protecting the people and enforcing the law, use the name of the law to persecute the practice of religion. Scientologists are not alone. Other religious faiths are experiencing similar harassment. People should become alarmed, because the next day every Russian citizen may fall a victim to such conduct as has happened in the past."