Stolen body of former Cypriot leader found in wrong grave

Three months after it was stolen, the corpse of Cyprus's former president was found buried in another grave, and police said they had arrested three men.

The right-wing Greek Cypriot hardliner's body was stolen in December during reunification talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders. A lack of clear motive and few clues led to speculation that it could have been politically motivated, but authorities suggested early on that ransom was a more likely scenario.

The robbers removed a heavy marble plaque from on top of Papadopoulos' grave on the outskirts of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, then dug down to the coffin and removed the body of the former president on 11 December, a day before the first anniversary of his death.

The country's justice minister said yesterday that the corpse had been held for ransom. But two spokesmen for former president Tassos Papadopoulos' family insisted his relatives had never received a demand for money.

The robbers left few leads at the scene. Investigators sought the help of the FBI and Interpol as well as Greek and Israeli law-enforcement authorities.

But there was little progress in the investigation until Monday, when police found the body after being alerted by his family, who had had a telephone tip-off. Family spokesman Chrysis Pantelides said a man had called with information and told them to contact police.

DNA testing early yesterday confirmed it was Papadopoulos' body, Michalis Katsounotos, a police spokesman, said.

The former president's body was found inside another grave and covered with a thin layer of soil, he said, adding that it had been placed in the grave recently.

The ex-president's family denied receiving a ransom demand, despite the claims of justice minister Loucas Louca. "Officials must be very careful when they open their mouths," said family friend Vassilis Palmas. "The minister said something that is unfounded."

Katsounotos said that the suspects were arrested late yesterday. They were due to appear in court today.