Recovered body of Cyprus’ former president reburied 3 months after its theft

By Menelaos Hadjicostis, AP
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cyprus ex-leader’s stolen body is reburied

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The body of former Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos was reburied on Thursday, three months to the day after it was dug up from its grave and stolen in an apparent extortion bid.

Orthodox Christian priests offered prayers during the 30-minute reburial ceremony as hundreds of Papadopoulos family friends and supporters crowded into the small, suburban Nicosia cemetery from where the corpse was snatched during an overnight storm on Dec. 11.

Onlookers applauded and shouted “immortal, immortal!” as Papadopoulos’ two sons and closest aides carried the flower-topped coffin back to its grave.

“An ordeal has ended for us today,” Papadopoulos’ son and political heir-apparent Nicholas Papadopoulos told reporters after the ceremony. “We hope our father will finally find his peace.”

Although the corpse was recovered, the thieves’ motives remain a mystery.

Cyprus’ justice minister has said the shocking theft had “financial motives,” but refused to elaborate. A spokesman for the Papadopoulos family said no ransom demand was made, although the family had spoken with an individual about “reward money” for information on the corpse’s location — money that was never paid.

Police said on Thursday they have arrested a fourth suspect, a 58-year-old Cypriot man who will appear in court Friday for a custody hearing.

Late Monday, police arrested three suspects and one of them, a 31-year-old Indian national who became remorseful over his alleged role in the theft, has claimed that a convicted murderer — Antonis Prokopiou Kitas, 44 — had masterminded the theft from prison.

Police allege the Indian national told Papadopoulos’ family the body was hidden in a grave on the outskirts of Nicosia and asked for money to start a new life abroad, but never got any.

A court ordered the Indian national and Kitas’ 48-year-old brother — Mamas Prokopiou Kitas — to be held for eight days while authorities investigate 11 charges, including extortion, conspiracy to commit a felony and insult to religion.

The three suspects have not entered a plea yet, and the identification of the Indian national has been made difficult by various spellings of his name.

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. His body was stolen just before the first anniversary of his death.

The strange end to an already bizarre saga befuddled Cypriots, who questioned how a convict serving life for rape and murder could allegedly recruit outside help from the confines of his prison cell and pull off such a daring theft.

Antonis Prokopiou Kitas was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 for the rape and murder of a Swedish housewife and a Ukrainian female dancer.

In 2008, when Kitas was taken from prison to a private clinic to be treated for a health problem he escaped and was on the run for nearly a month before being caught. His escape forced the resignation of the island’s justice minister and police chief.

Media reports said Kitas is refusing to cooperate with investigators and has threatened to go on a hunger strike.

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