Cyprus court orders 2 men held over theft of former president’s corpse

By Menelaos Hadjicostis, AP
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

2 men held for theft of Cyprus ex-leader’s corpse

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A suspect’s remorse over his alleged role in the theft of the body of Cyprus’ former president led to the corpse’s discovery and three arrests, a police official testified Wednesday.

Tassos Papadopoulos’ corpse vanished after being dug up and stolen from its grave on Dec. 11. It was found Monday reburied in another cemetery on Nicosia’s southern outskirts in what Justice Minister Loucas Louca called a case of bodysnatching for financial gain.

One suspect, a 31-year-old Indian national, admitted to contacting Papadopoulos’ family and offering to say where the body was in exchange for cash, according to testimony Wednesday by police official Yiannakis Charalambous.

Charalambous said the Indian suspect disclosed the corpse’s location, but received no money. He said the suspect also told investigators he was recruited by two Cypriot brothers, aged 44 and 48, to help exhume and conceal the body, and agreed in hopes of earning enough to begin a new life abroad.

The Indian man and the 48-year-old Cypriot were in court for a custody hearing Wednesday, but were still not identified by name. The court ordered they be held for eight days longer while authorities investigate on 11 charges including extortion, conspiracy to commit a felony and insult to religion.

The 44-year-old brother faces similar charges but did not appear in court, as he is already a convicted felon serving life in prison.

The justice minister has said the motive in the bodysnatching was ransom.

A Papadopoulos family spokesmen, Chrysis Pantelides, said Wednesday that no ransom demand was made, but that the family had spoken with an individual about “reward money” for information on the corpse’s location — money which was never paid.

Charalambous told the hearing Wednesday that the Indian suspect told investigators he acted as a lookout on Dec. 11 while the 48-year-old accomplice exhumed Papadopoulos’s body from a cemetery in the Nicosia suburb of Deftera.

The suspects then allegedly loaded the corpse into a pickup truck, drove it to another cemetery several miles (kilometers) away and reburied it.

The suspect said he was paid $270 (euro200) and was promised “more,” but a guilty conscience drove him to call the family Monday and offer the corpse’s location in exchange for an undisclosed amount of money and a chance for a fresh start abroad, according to the police official’s testimony.

Speaking through a translator, the Indian suspect denied ever threatening the family, saying that he only “told them the truth,” according to Charalambous.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said the man was arrested at Oroklini village, southeast of Nicosia, after being spotted by undercover officers staking out phone booths that were used to contact the Papadopoulos family.

The family said Papadopoulos would be reburied Thursday at Deftera cemetery.

Papadopoulos, president from 2003 to 2008, died of lung cancer nine months after he lost an election to Dimitris Christofias, former leader of the communist-rooted AKEL party.

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