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Greek police arrest 2 accused of trafficking in religious relics

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THESSALONIKI, Greece — Police in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki said Monday they had arrested a Swiss national and a Greek Orthodox deacon for trafficking in what they said were holy relics.

Police said they arrested a 43-year-old Swiss man, who told them he was a Zurich-based computer services consultant, Sunday afternoon at Thessaloniki airport when he declared, before proceeding through security scanners, that he was carrying the remains of saints.

Police said they seized 197 bone fragments and three skulls sprayed with fragrance and bearing stickers labeling them with names of saints such as Mary Magdalene, St. Andrew, St. Basil and St. Demetrius.

The man said he had obtained the relics from a Greek Orthodox Church deacon and he was going to deliver them to a Russian Orthodox priest in Germany who planned to open a church in India, police said. He claimed no financial transaction was involved, according to police.

Early Monday, police said, they arrested the 24-year-old deacon at his home in the town of Sidirokastro, northeast of Thessaloniki. There, they found 505 bone fragments, 15 skulls, a number of Byzantine icons, coins and crosses, they said. Among the findings police reported were two nails labeled "Holy Nails of the Lord Jesus," presumably a claim that they had been used to nail Jesus on the cross.

"This is an unprecedented case. ... We are investigating the provenance of these relics and their destination," said Nikos Dimitriadis, head of Thessaloniki police's Financial Crimes division, said.