Gang targets wrong grave in bungled body snatch

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An attempt in Argentina to ransom the corpse of a businessman's father descended into black comedy after the criminals emptied the wrong grave.

The group broke into acemetery in the small town of Gualeguay, in Entre Rios province, and snatched the remains of Pablo Ramon Campostrini's father. Then they called Mr Campostrini, who owns a well-known construction materials yard, to demand money in exchange. Mr Campostrini asked them to wait while he visited the cemetery to check their story.

He was relieved to find the grave of his father, Lorenzo Antonio, untouched. But the vault that had contained the remains of his grandfather, Pablo Lorenzo, who founded the family's business at the beginning of the century, and his grandmother and great-grandparents was empty.

When the criminals phoned again Mr Campostrini told them of their mistake and received a torrent of verbal abuse before they hung up. Police found the remains a few hours laterin a rubbish bag near the cemetery.

Two men and two children were arrested on Saturday near Gualeguay and charged with desecration of a grave, which carries a five-year sentence. They could not be charged with kidnapping for ransom because they had not demanded a specific amount of money.

Argentina has suffered a wave of kidnappings in which criminals hold victims for a few hours, demanding a ransom low enough to ensure quick delivery. There were 207 kidnappings in the first half of 2003.

Crime has increased substantially since the country's economy crashed in 2001.