Europe

'Bone relic traffickers' arrested in Greece

Skulls and bones displayed by police in Thessaloniki, Greece, 24 May 2010
Image caption The bones had been labelled with the names of saints

Authorities in Greece have arrested a Swiss man and a Greek Orthodox deacon suspected of trafficking hundreds of bones to be sold as religious relics.

The Swiss man was detained at Thessaloniki airport when 197 bones and three skulls were found in his luggage.

He said he had received them from the deacon, who was found to be holding hundreds more bones when he was held north-east of Thessaloniki.

The bones were apparently destined for a Russian Orthodox priest in Germany.

The bones that the 43-year-old Swiss man was carrying were sprayed with fragrance and had stickers marking them with the names of saints including St Mary Magdalene, St Andrew, St Basil and St Demetrius, police said.

They said the priest who was the intended recipient of the bones was aiming to set up a church in India.

When police arrested the 24-year-old deacon on Monday, they found 505 bones, 15 skulls, and a collection of Byzantine crosses, coins and icons.

The head of the financial crimes section of Thessaloniki's police department called it an "unprecedented case", the Associated Press news agency reported.