Cyprus issues warrant for Russian spy suspect

A suspected Russian spy vanished shortly after being freed on bail.

Nicosia: Police in Cyprus issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for a suspected Russian spy wanted by the United States who vanished shortly after being freed on bail on the Mediterranean island.

Christopher Robert Metsos, 55, who American authorities accuse of being the paymaster for a network of Russian agents in the United States, failed to report to a police station on Wednesday, violating terms of his bail granted a day earlier.

A police statement issued on Thursday said Metsos was wanted for "disobeying a court order" on June 30. "We have no indications of where he may be," Michalis Katsounotos, a police spokesman, said, adding that he had cleared out his apartment.

The spokesman declined to speculate about whether he had fled Cyprus. Police were searching for him on the island.

Police released a photograph of Metsos on Thursday. The suspect was of medium build, balding with grey hear, rimless spectacles and a neat moustache. It was taken in Cyprus on June 29, shortly before he was released on bail, police said.

Metsos is accused by US authorities of having managed payments to a group of agents collecting information for Russian intelligence for at least a decade. Ten suspects were arrested in the United States on Sunday, causing a diplomatic stir.

A Canadian passport holder, Metsos was arrested as he attempted to fly out of Cyprus in the early hours of June 29 for Budapest. On the same day, a local court ordered he be freed on bail, rejecting a request from police he remain in custody until an extradition hearing scheduled for July 29.

Metsos had checked in with police on the first day of his bail, on June 29. On Wednesday, the day of his disappearance, he was expected to discuss terms of his case with his lawyer, but Metsos did not communicate with him, the lawyer said.

Risk of flight

It is unusual for Cypriot courts to grant foreigners bail, since prosecutors cite the risk of flight from the island, particularly through a breakaway state in northern Cyprus.

Larnaca, a pretty seafront town where Metsos had been staying from June 17 is about 20 kilometres away from the ceasefire line which splits the island.

There are a number of designated checkpoints linking Cyprus`s estranged Greek Cypriot community in the south, and the Turkish community in the north.

A spokesman for Turkish Cypriot police said they had no knowledge of Metsos being in the north.

After checking out of one hotel on Tuesday, Metsos checked in to another complex of modest holiday apartments off the Larnaca seafront promenade.

In the United States, Metsos and his 10 co-accused face charges of collecting information ranging from research programs on small-yield, high-penetration nuclear warheads to the global gold market, and seeking background on people who applied for jobs at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The 55-year-old had specifically been accused of receiving and making payments to the other members of the group.

US Justice Department documents say he received payments during a brush-pass with a Russian government official who was affiliated with the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York, and of burying cash which was then retrieved by other suspects.

Bureau Report

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