Russia's Patriarch Kirill in furore over luxury watch

Patriarch Kirill, 3 July 09 - screen grab Russian bloggers spotted a tell-tale reflection on the highly polished table

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The Russian Orthodox Church has apologised for showing a photo of its leader Patriarch Kirill that was doctored to airbrush out a luxury watch he was wearing.

The gold Breguet watch is estimated to be worth more than $30,000 (£19,000) and was spotted by Russian bloggers.

The watch's reflection could be seen in the 2009 photo on the church's website.

The Patriarchate said the manipulation would be investigated and "the guilty ones will be punished severely".

In a statement the Patriarch's press service said "we reject on principle any use of photo editing software to alter the appearance of images.

"There will be a thorough investigation to determine why in this instance there was a crude violation of our internal ethical code. The guilty ones will be punished severely," it said.

The original photo, dated 3 July 2009, showed a meeting between the Patriarch and Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov. The doctored version appeared this month.

Despite the airbrushing the watch's presence was given away by its reflection on a polished table top.

After heated debate about it in the Russian blogosphere the Patriarchate first removed the enlarged image from the site and then removed the image altogether.

Now the Patriarchate says the original image is back in its archive.

In February this year a photo of Patriarch Kirill meeting President Vladimir Putin - who was prime minister at the time - showed Kirill wearing the Breguet watch.

Last week the Patriarch told a Russian interviewer, Vladimir Solovyov, that expensive watches were not part of his official attire. He admitted owning a Breguet watch, but said he kept it in its box.

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