March 9, 2010 / 5:50 PM / 9 years ago

Ex-president's body stolen for ransom, Cyprus says

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus said Tuesday ransom was the motive of thieves who stole the body of former President Tassos Papadopoulos, found in a shallow grave Monday three months after it disappeared from its tomb.

Cyprus' President Tassos Papadopoulos addresses a news conference at the end of a European Union Heads of State and Government summit in Brussels December 14, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Ezequiel Scagnetti

The remains, stolen last December, were found in another person’s grave after police received a tip-off and DNA tests identified it as that of the former leader.

“Police had realized early on that the theft of the body was for ransom,” Justice Minister Loucas Louca said. “There was no political motive.”

A spokesman for the Papadopoulos family denied a ransom request was made, but the minister insisted the motive was financial, although he said no money was paid.

Papadopoulos was president of Cyprus from 2003 to early 2008, when he lost a bid for re-election to the leftist Demetris Christofias, once a partner in his ruling center-left coalition.

A forceful character, Papadopoulos led Greek Cypriot rejection of a U.N. reunification blueprint for ethnically-divided Cyprus in 2004.

The unprecedented crime was a riddle for Cypriot authorities who sought help from Western intelligence services and Interpol.

In a well-planned operation, the thieves lifted a 300 kg (650 lb) granite slab covering Papadopoulos’s grave, removed the corpse from its coffin and left the scene undetected.

Among conspiracy theories over who could have been responsible were Balkan crime gangs seeking a ransom to local thieves with a political motive.

Police quickly ruled out a political motive, which could have had explosive consequences on the Mediterranean island, divided since a Turkish invasion in 1974 which followed a brief Greek-inspired coup.

“The public has every right to know the motives, because this was a case which had caused agitation on a political and a social level,” said Louca. “The motives were financial.”

The cemetery where Papadopoulos’s body was found is close to the community where he was originally buried. Police said it had been placed in the grave of someone who died last year.

Editing by Andrew Dobbie

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