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Cyprus police hunt for suspect in US-Russia spy case

International Desk |
Update: 2010-06-30 20:02:59

NICOSIA: Cyprus police have launched an intensive hunt across the Mediterranean island for a key suspect in the Russia-US spy scandal after the alleged Kremlin paymaster jumped bail, a spokesman said Thursday.

US ambassador to Cyprus Frank Urbancic, meanwhile, was meeting President Demetris Christofias in Nicosia on Thursday during which the controversial release on bail of Christopher Metsos, 54, was expected to be raised.

The disappearance of Metsos provided a stunning twist to a Cold War-style espionage saga that has threatened to upset major efforts to reset ties between Washington and Moscow.

Police said all exit points from the Mediterranean island were being monitored as was the line dividing the Turkish-held north from the Greek Cypriot south.

An arrest warrant is now out for Metsos, who could seek to take advantage of the fact that the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north of the island has no extradition treaties and serves as a well-known haven for fugitives.

A picture of Metsos is also being widely circulated in the hope that the public will help in spotting the fugitive, the police spokesman said.

Metsos was arrested at the island`s Larnaca airport on Tuesday as he tried to board an early-morning flight to Budapest, after immigration officers discovered his name on a stop list.

To the dismay of US justice officials, Metsos was not deemed enough of a flight risk to be kept behind bars until he could be extradited to the United States and a local court allowed him to go free on 26,500 euros (32,330 dollars) bail.

State prosecutor Marina Spyliotopoulou had argued that Metsos was likely to abscond and should be detained in custody until his extradition hearing on July 29. But the defence lawyer appealed the request and the judge decided to grant bail.

Metsos was ordered to surrender his passport and travel documents, and told to visit the police station in central Larnaca each day until the extradition hearing.
Police said he did sign in on Tuesday evening but failed to appear on Wednesday between 6 and 8 pm as ordered by the court.

Local papers said Metsos had spent some of the 12 days on the island prior to his arrest with an attractive red-headed woman, acting liking an ordinary tourist couple.

One of the Russian spy suspects arrested in the United States earlier this week, Anna Chapman, 28, has been the focus of much media attention, with the tabloids describing her as a flame-haired femme fatale who used elaborate communication rituals to pass information to her Russian handler.

There is a large Russian community in Cyprus and around 150,000 Russians visited the island in 2009, while Moscow and Nicosia have good relations.

Christofias -- the first president from the communist party AKEL -- visited Russia in November 2008, just seven months after being elected.

But Cyprus officials insisted Thursday there was no political interference in the judge`s decision to grant bail to Metsos.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the decision to let the suspect free on conditional bail was "an issue for the courts, not the government or the police."

On Monday, US authorities announced the arrest of 10 "deep-cover" suspects accused of infiltrating policymaking and reporting back to Moscow. The Federal Bureau of Investigation secretly monitored the mission for more than 10 years.
Metsos has been named as the 11th suspect and said to have been under surveillance in Queens in New York in May 2004 when he received a bag containing money from an official associated with Russia`s UN mission.

Two more suspects were followed in June 2006 to Wurstboro, New York, where they dug up a package of money allegedly buried there by Metsos.

Police told the court in Larnaca that Metsos was wanted in the United States for spying on behalf of Russia and for laundering 40,000 dollars (32,800 euros).

BDST: 1638 HRS, 1 July,2010

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