3 men guilty in theft of Cyprus ex-leader's corpse

AP News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2011 1:06 PM
3 men guilty in theft of Cyprus ex-leader's corpse

A jailed Cypriot murderer ordered his brother to dig up the corpse of the island's former president and hide it so he could negotiate his own release from prison, a court ruled Monday.

The court found the jailed murderer, his brother and another man guilty of unlawfully exhuming the body of Tassos Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos' corpse was snatched from a Nicosia cemetery during an overnight storm in Dec. 2009 and reburied three months later after police found his body and arrested the suspects.

The case shocked public opinion, and even touched off rumors of political motivation in light of ongoing talks to reunify the island that was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974.

Papadopoulos served as president between 2003 and 2008, and died of cancer that year at 74, months after losing a re-election bid to current president Dimitris Christofias.

The court convicted jailed convict Antonis Prokopiou Kitas, his brother Mamas, and Sarbjit Singh of India of conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, illegal entry into a cemetery and exhuming a body without a relevant court order. But it cleared them of attempting to extort money from the late president's family. Singh's lawyer Doros Zavallis said the charges carry a maximum two-year sentence. Sentencing will be April 18.

The court said Antonis had masterminded the macabre theft from his prison cell and ordered his brother to steal the body in an attempt to negotiate his own release.

Antonis, 45, was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 for the rape and murder of a Swedish housewife and a Ukrainian female dancer. He was again thrust into the public eye in 2008 when his escape from a private Nicosia clinic and arrest after a month as a fugitive forced the resignation of the island's justice minister and police chief.

The body-theft case unraveled when a remorseful Singh, 32, contacted Papadopoulos' family several weeks after the theft and revealed that the corpse was hidden in a grave on the outskirts of Nicosia.

Singh had asked the family for some euro50,000-100,000($71,000-142,000) to start a new life abroad, but never received any money. He said he had no intention to extort from the family, but wanted to leave the island.

Mamas, 49, had told the court that he initially balked at carrying out his brother's request to steal the body, but did so with Singh's help because he felt he would be killed by "dangerous people" if he didn't comply.

Singh said Mamas had kept him in the dark about whose body they were stealing and he only found out the next day when he watched the news.