NICOSIA, Cyprus — Three men were arrested Tuesday over the theft of the body of the former president, which was found reburied in another grave three months after being dug up and held for ransom, police said.
Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos told The Associated Press the suspects will appear in court Wednesday, and police will request their detention to assist with the investigation. He provided no detail on the three men’s identities.
Cyprus’s justice minister said the body had been held for ransom. But two spokesmen for former president Tasos Papadopoulos’ family insisted his relatives had never received a demand for money.
The right-wing Greek Cypriot hard-liner’s body was stolen in December during slow-moving reunification talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders. A lack of clear motive and few clues led to speculation that it could have been politically motivated, but authorities suggested early on that ransom was a more likely scenario.
The robbers removed a heavy marble plaque from on top of Papadopoulos’ grave on the southern outskirts of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, then dug down to the coffin and removed the body of the former president on Dec. 11, a day before the first anniversary of his death.
The robbers left few leads at the scene. Lime was strewn over the grave in what investigators believe was an attempt to erase any tracks they might have left behind. Investigators sought the help of the FBI and Interpol as well as Greek and Israeli law enforcement authorities.
But there was little progress in the investigation until Monday, when police found the body in another cemetery after being alerted by his family, who had received a telephone tip, Katsounotos said. Family spokesman Chrysis Pantelides said a man speaking broken Greek had called with information.
DNA testing early Tuesday confirmed it was Papadopoulos’ body, Katsounotos said.
The former president’s body was found inside another grave and covered with a thin layer of soil, he said.
Justice Minister Loucas Louca said during a news conference that Papadopoulos’ family had received a demand for ransom, but that no money had been paid. He didn’t indicate when the demand had been made.
“The conclusion is that ransom was behind the theft and there was no political motive,” Louca said adding the family had contacted police.
But two spokesmen for the family said the family had received no such demand.
“Officials must be very careful when they open their mouths,” said Vassilis Palmas, a family friend and former government spokesman during Papadopulos’ tenure. “The minister said something that is unfounded.”