THESSALONIKI, Greece - Greek police say a man who posed for years as a novice monk has been identified as a fugitive civil servant sentenced to three life terms in prison for fraud.
A police statement Tuesday said the 48-year-old was arrested in Karyes, administrative center of Mount Athos, the 1,000-year-old Greek Orthodox monastic community. His name was not released, in conformance to police practice.
Police said the man, formerly an accountant in an eastern Athens municipality, was convicted in absentia in 2011 of involvement in embezzling 9 million euros, fraud and forgery. For the past eight years, police say the man lived in a string of remote retreats and cells on Mount Athos, passing himself off as a novice monk.
The famed retreat of Mount Athos, which granted rare access to a "60 Minutes" crew in 2011, is considered by millions to be one of the holiest places on Earth.
It was set aside by ancient emperors to be the spiritual capital of Orthodox Christianity and has probably changed less over the centuries than any other inhabited place on the planet. The monks come to Mount Athos from all over and do everything they can to keep what they call "the world" far away.
There are 20 monasteries, and the monks there life a Spartan way of life. They try to be self sufficient - they grow their own fruit and vegetables, and do their own tailoring.
And when they get sick, there's an in-monastery doctor, Father Ermolaos, who is not very busy because the monks are in excellent shape: there's remarkably little cancer, virtually no heart disease or Alzheimer's. They must be doing something right, in addition to drinking wine at nine in the morning.
They eat two meals a day. The "first meal" lasts 10 minutes; the "second meal" also lasts 10 minutes. There's no meat and no dinner table conversation - the only sound is a monk reading from sacred texts.