Cyprus police say body found in cemetery could be stolen corpse of former president

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cyprus police say found corpse could be ex-leader

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cypriot police acting on a tipoff found a body at a Nicosia cemetery that they believe could be the stolen corpse of former president Tassos Papadopoulos, a spokesman said on Monday.

Michalis Katsounotos wouldn’t say in what state the corpse was or whether it was buried. He also did not say what evidence investigators have to lead them to believe it could be that of the former Greek Cypriot leader.

Katsounotos said the corpse was found at a different cemetery to the suburban Nicosia graveyard from where it was stolen on Dec. 11 — the eve of the first anniversary of Papadopoulos’ death.

He said DNA testing would be carried out to positively identify the body.

Family members, including three of Papadopoulos’ adult children, rushed to the cemetery amid heavy police security.

Police said the robbers who took the corpse had removed a heavy marble plaque from on top of the grave, digging down to the coffin and removing the body of Papadopoulos, who died of lung cancer on Dec. 12, 2008, at age 74.

The robbers left few clues at the scene. Lime was strewn over the grave in what investigators believe was an attempt to erase any tracks they might have left behind. Investigators even sought the help of the FBI and Interpol as well as Greek and Israeli law enforcement authorities to solve the bizarre case.

The body-snatching horrified Cypriots and came as the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders were locked in complex negotiations aimed at reunifying the divided island. The talks have made only marginal progress after 18 months.

Cyprus was divided into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

The motive for the theft remains a mystery, but Papadopoulos — who was president from 2003 to 2008 — is considered by many right-wing Greek Cypriots as a symbol of resistance to peace accords they believe are weighted against them.

That led to widespread speculation the theft was politically motivated. Authorities tried to dampen down that speculation, suggesting that ransom was a more likely possibility.

Papadopoulos ushered a divided Cyprus into the European Union in May 2004 after urging Greek Cypriots to reject a U.N. brokered reunification plan, which he vilified as entrenching the island’s division rather than ending it. Three-quarters of Cypriots rejected it in a referendum; two-thirds of Turkish Cypriots accepted the plan.

Papadopoulos was defeated in a February 2008 presidential poll by Dimitris Christofias, former leader of the communist-rooted AKEL party.

Papadopoulos was a central figure in Cypriot politics for decades, with a career spanning most of the island’s turbulent history since it gained independence from Britain in 1960.

A British-trained lawyer, Papadopoulos was a guerrilla leader for the Greek Cypriot group EOKA, which waged an anti-colonial campaign. Later, aged 26, he was the youngest cabinet minister in the island’s first post-independence government.

will not be displayed