The Telegraph reports…
“The botched restoration of a church fresco by an elderly parishioner turned it into a money spinner and brought the town of Borja international fame but now it is the at the centre of a new controversy.
The parish priest in charge of the church where the Ecce Homo now draws hundreds of visitors each week was arrested on Friday for allegedly pocketing church funds of around 210,000 euros.
Florencio Garces, the 70-year-old priest of Borja was detained by Guardia Civil on suspicion of misappropriating parish funds following a five month investigation. He is also facing charges of money laundering and sexual abuse.
The arrest has stirred emotion in a town which leapt into the public eye last year after elderly resident and local artist Celia Gimenez, 83, attempted to restore a 100 year old fresco of Christ – with dire but highly amusing results.
Her amateur restoration efforts in August 2012 transformed the Ecce Homo into a laughing stock and the before and after images spread quickly across social networking sites.
But the new icon – dubbed Ecce Mono for its likeness to a monkey –brought an unlikely windfall for the town in Aragon and drew some 70,000 tourists within the first year, bringing much needed custom for local businesses.
Church authorities began charging a one euro entrance fee to those wishing to view the painting, funds that were destined for a local charitable care home with 60 residents.
The priest was released without bail after appearing before an investigating magistrate in Tarazona on Sunday and an investigation opened into the alleged crimes. Another five people were also arrested on related charges.
Police said they could not disclose whether the alleged economic crimes were directly connected to entrance fees collected at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church, the home of the disfigured fresco.
Residents of the town, with a population of 5,000, came out to show support for their parish priest expressing “shock” at the allegations, among them Mrs Gimenez.
“We haven’t been told the details of the allegations,” she said. “But as far as I know he is a lovely man who has cared for this community for more than 20 years.”