Cyprus police hunt for suspect in US-Russia spy case

1st July 2010, Comments 0 comments

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 scheduled Thursday to meet President Demetris Christofias in Nicosia 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 was is 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 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.

He was ordered to surrender his passport and travel documents, pending an extradition hearing on July 29, and told to visit the police station in central Larnaca each day.

But he failed to sign in on Wednesday between 6 and 8 pm as ordered by the court.

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).

© 2010 AFP

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