Page last updated at 00:07 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Arrests over theft of Cyprus ex-leader's corpse

Strovolos cemetery Nicosia
The body was inside another grave and covered with a thin layer of soil

Three men have been arrested in connection with the theft of the corpse of Cyprus's ex-President Tassos Papadopoulos, officials say.

Police said they had arrested two Greek Cypriots and a foreign national on suspicion of involvement in the theft.

One of the Greek Cypriots was already serving a prison sentence for other offences, a spokesman said.

The body was stolen three months ago and found in a cemetery in Nicosia late on Monday after an anonymous tip-off.

DNA tests confirmed it was that of Mr Papadopoulos.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos told the AP news agency that the suspects will appear in court on Wednesday.

He said police will request they be kept in custody pending further investigations.

Another report said the foreign national under arrest was an Indian.

'Ransom demand'

Earlier, Justice Minister Loucas Louca said the thieves had made a ransom demand, although no money was paid.

"There was no political motive," he added.

However, spokesmen for the Papadopoulos family denied that any ransom demand was made to them.

Cypriot media said the body snatchers had demanded 300,000 euros ($400,000; £272,000).

Papadopoulos family spokesman Chrysis Pantelides told media that a caller speaking "broken Greek" had telephoned the family and had been redirected to the police.

Acting on the information, the former president's body was found inside another grave and covered with a thin layer of soil, Mr Katsounotos said.

Tassos Papadopoulos
Tassos Papadopoulos was president from 2003 to 2008

Police have sealed off a telephone booth in a village south of Nicosia where the tip-off was made from.

Mr Papadopoulos was president from 2003 to 2008. He died in December 2008.

His widow, Fotini, said in a statement on Tuesday: "The finding of the body of our beloved Tassos has finally put an end to the ordeal which has overwhelmed us for the past three months and has restored calm to our family.

"We hope that the police investigation will lead to the location of the culprits as soon as possible."

Papadopoulos's successor, President Demetris Christofias, expressed "relief and satisfaction" at the outcome.

The body will be returned to the family for a private reburial.

It was stolen on 11 December last year, one day before a memorial service was to be held to mark the first anniversary of Mr Papadopoulos's death from lung cancer.

Police had described the theft as "deliberate and carefully planned", with a marble slab weighing 250kg (40st) lifted to dig up the grave.

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