Former Cypriot minister to be extradited to Greece in graft inquiry

NICOSIA (Reuters) - A court in Cyprus ordered the extradition of a former Cypriot interior minister to Greece on Monday for questioning related to corruption charges against a once-powerful Greek politician who is now in jail.

Dinos Michaelides would be the first Cypriot government or former government official to be extradited to Greece. Greek authorities want to question him as part of a graft inquiry against Akis Tsohatzopoulos.

Tsohatzopoulos, a founding member of Greece's Socialist PASOK party who almost became prime minister in the 1990s, is facing charges of accepting kickbacks for arms contracts when he was defense minister. He denies the charges.

Greek prosecutors allege Tsohatzopoulos, who was defense minister from 1996 to 2001, siphoned funds overseas. They say one of his co-defendants has alleged that Michaelides helped Tsohatzopoulos set up bank accounts, and that they want to question the former Cypriot minister about that.

Michaelides denies any wrongdoing.

He served as interior minister in two governments, the second stint in the late 1990s, and has since maintained a legal practice.

Greek authorities issued a arrest warrant against Michaelides when he failed to respond to a summons to appear in an Athens court earlier this year.

His lawyers had fought the extradition, appealing against a lower court's verdict which said he had to go to Greece. However the ruling was upheld by the island's Supreme Court on Monday, and he has no further right of appeal. The court said he must be extradited within 10 days.

Tsohatzopoulos was sentenced to eight years in jail by a Greek court in March for an unrelated case of failing to disclose the source of lavish wealth and submitting false income statements.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas)