Cyprus hopeful of re-arresting fugitive spy suspect 'soon'

1st July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Cypriot authorities are hopeful they will soon re-arrest a key suspect in the Russia-US spy scandal after the alleged Kremlin paymaster jumped bail, the justice minister said on Thursday.

Loucas Louca, asked where Canadian Christopher Metsos might be, said "we have indications. We know his whereabouts roughly from the information we have collected.

"We have some information, and I hope that we will arrest him soon," he told reporters.

Metsos's disappearance on Wednesday 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.

It also prompted Washington to express its "disappointment" with Cyprus.

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

Metsos, 54, might seek to take advantage of the fact that the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north, recognised only by Turkey, has no extradition treaties and is a well-known haven for fugitives.

Louca, who said police were still investigating whether Metsos acted alone or had help, would not say whether he had travelled north.

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

The man was arrested at Larnaca airport on Tuesday as he tried to board a flight to Budapest, after immigration officers discovered his name on a stop list.

To the dismay of US officials, he was not deemed enough of a risk to be kept behind bars until he could be extradited to the United States, where he is wanted for spying on behalf of Russia and for laundering 40,000 dollars (32,800 euros).

On Tuesday, a judge rejected the state prosecutor's request that Metsos be detained until an extradition hearing on July 29 and allowed him to go free on 26,500 euros (32,330 dollars) bail.

Metsos was ordered to surrender his passport and travel documents, and told to check in with police each day until then.

Police said he signed in on Tuesday but failed to appear on Wednesday between 6 and 8 pm as ordered.

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

Meanwhile, US Ambassador Frank Urbancic met President Demetris Christofias in Nicosia on Thursday.

Later in Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said "we are disappointed that Christopher Metsos was released on bail following his arrest in Cyprus.

"As we had feared, having been given, unnecessarily, the chance to flee, he did so."

Opposition daily Alithia said the police special branch were given orders to keep close tabs on Metsos once he was released, "so how he managed to escape raises a lot of questions."

But officials insisted there was no political interference in the judge's decision to let the suspect free on conditional bail.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said that was "an issue for the courts, not the government or the police."

"If we were surveying him 24 hours a day it would have been a restriction and a violation of his rights," he added, when asked why the police had failed to monitor Metsos more closely.

Louca, when asked whether Cyprus were in the dock in the United States and European Union over the escape, said: "I don't think so, because this was a court decision, and these countries respect judicial authority."

But he added that "one judge made a ruling. Maybe he took the wrong decision; this occurs many times."

On Monday, US authorities announced the arrest of 10 "deep-cover" suspects accused of infiltrating policymaking circles and reporting back to Moscow, whom the Federal Bureau of Investigation had secretly monitored for more than 10 years.

Metsos was named as the 11th suspect and said to have been under surveillance in New York City in May 2004 when he received a bag containing money from an official associated with Russia's UN mission.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article