This Europe: Pop abbot's band nicks man on the run

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The Independent Online

The age-old Byzantine traditions of Orthodox Easter were shattered in Greece by a sharply modern and macabre tale of murder, lotteries and pop star priests.

What began as a man-hunt 10 days ago, after the discovery of the body of a teenage girl in the central Greek town of Lamia, ended on Easter weekend as the chief suspect was delivered to the police, and the television cameras, by the rock star monk.

Orthodox Abbot Nektarios Moulatsiotis is a household name for his role as manager to the platinum-selling rock band the Free, composed of novices from his Trikorfo monastery.

The group, known through Greece as the Rock Monks, shot to fame with an unlikely combination of ecclesiastical messages and an often hard-rock riff. The controversial Abbot Moulatsiotis, who is regularly ordered to disband Free by the official Church of Greece, is prone to grand statements in his frequent television appearances. Among his more sensational outbursts was one last year when he boasted he would give sanctuary even to Greece's most wanted man – then the mass-murderer Costas Passaris – should he knock on his door.

This claim was put to the test on Good Friday when Christos Voulgarakis, a murder suspect, knocked at the monastery door. The 35-year-old father was hunted in connection with the murder of his 13-year-old daughter.

Voulgarakis had quit his factory job the previous week claiming to have won €60,000 (£37,000) in the lottery and disappeared shortly before the body of his daughter, Vasso, was found.

The kitchen knife police suspect was used and bloody clothing thought to belong to the father were found in the house they had shared alone since Vasso's mother left to live in Athens.

Ironically for Abbot Moulatsiotis, whose band's biggest hit was "I Learnt to Live Free", he advised the suspect to surrender to the authorities in nearby Nafpaktos and face the consequences.

On arrival at the police station, surrounded by the mass ranks of the media, the prime suspect was flanked by the band's lawyer and insisted that he and his daughter were the victims of unnamed kidnappers.

"If only I knew who had done this and why," Voulgarakis told reporters. "I loved this child excessively, she was my whole life."

The publicity generated by the case is not expected to delay the pop star preachers' tour to the home of evangelism in America, planned for the autumn.