Cyprus police confirm body found in cemetery is stolen corpse of ex-leader

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cyprus police confirm body is ex-leader’s corpse

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A body discovered in a Nicosia cemetery is the stolen corpse of Cyprus’ ex-president Tassos Papadopoulos, police said Tuesday.

DNA results obtained early Tuesday positively identified the corpse as Papadopoulos after a telephone tip-off led police to the body late Monday at the cemetery in the Nicosia suburb of Strovolos, police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said.

Papadopoulos’ corpse was dug up from another graveyard on Nicosia’s southern outskirts n Dec. 11 — the eve of the first anniversary of his death from lung cancer.

Katsounotos wouldn’t elaborate on the state of the corpse or possible motives for the bizarre body snatching, but said more details would be revealed at a news conference later Tuesday.

The call to police was made from a phone booth a few miles (kilometers) away from the cemetery, Katsounotos. He said investigators examined the booth for fingerprints and other evidence that could lead to the caller’s identity.

Family members, including three of Papadopoulos’ adult children, rushed to the cemetery amid heavy police security after being notified of the corpse’s discovery.

The tip-off unlocked an investigation that has remained mostly dormant since grave robbers removed a heavy marble plaque from on top of his 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 leads 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 case.

The bizarre body-snatching shocked Cypriots and came as the divided island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders were locked in complex reunification talks. 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.

Papadopoulos, who was president from 2003 to 2008, was considered by many right wing Greek Cypriots to be a champion of resistance against peace accords that are weighted against them.

A lack of a firm motive and few clues led to widespread speculation that the theft was politically motivated. Authorities tried to dampen speculation, suggesting that ransom was a more likely scenario.

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, at age 26, he was the youngest cabinet minister in the island’s first post-independence government.

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