Russian spy suspect missing in Cyprus, say police

Christopher Metsos (Cyprus police handout, 1 July 2010) Christopher Metsos is depicted as the alleged spy ring's money man

One of 11 suspects accused by the US of spying for Russia has gone missing after being freed on bail on Cyprus.

The man, a Canadian, named by police as Christopher Metsos, was due to sign in at a police station in the coastal town of Larnaca but did not show up.

He was held at Larnaca airport on Tuesday as he tried to board a plane to Budapest, a day after the US said it had held 10 other suspects.

Mr Metsos was awaiting a hearing for extradition to the US.

He had been staying alone at a hotel in Larnaca for nearly two weeks and was said by local media to have been carrying a US passport.

'Sleepers'

Aged 54 or 55, he is depicted by US prosecutors as the alleged spy ring's shadowy money man, visiting the US as early as 2004 to deliver bags of cash to its members.

Start Quote

I'm truly surprised the court issued no detention order against an individual alleged to be a spy”

End Quote Ionas Nicolaou Cypriot MP

An arrest warrant is being issued for Mr Metsos, whose bail conditions were that he surrender his travel documents and visit the police station in central Larnaca each day.

He failed to sign in on Wednesday evening as ordered by the court, police say.

Accused of money laundering, he was released on bail of 26,500 euros (£21,700; $32,500) to await an extradition hearing scheduled for 29 July.

"Police went to check his hotel and he could not be located," police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos told news agency AFP.

Michalis Papathanasiou, a lawyer who represented Mr Metsos in court, told news agency Reuters that he had no contact with Metsos on Wednesday.

The Cypriot authorities' decision to release him on bail is now under fire.

"I'm truly surprised the court issued no detention order against an individual who is alleged to be a spy," Ionas Nicolaou, an opposition MP and chairman of the Cypriot parliament's legal affairs committee, told AP news agency.

'Tip of iceberg'

The 10 suspects held in the US are accused of conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of a foreign government, a crime less serious than espionage but which carries up to five years in prison.

Women pass outside of the hotel where Christopher Metsos was believed to have been staying in Larnaca, Cyprus, on 30 June 2010 Christopher Metsos had been alone at a Cyprus hotel for nearly two weeks

US prosecutors say they posed as ordinary citizens, some living together as couples for years. In security circles such agents are known as "illegals" or "sleepers".

They were trained by the SVR Russian intelligence agency to infiltrate policymaking circles and collect information, according to papers filed in New York.

Investigators say some of the accused had been using false identities since the early 1990s, using codes and engaging in advanced computer operations, including posting apparently innocent pictures on the internet which contained hidden text.

Russia has said the US charges - which came just days after a US visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev - are baseless and a throwback to the Cold War.

Sources in the US say the FBI had to swoop because one of the suspects, reported to be 28-year-old Anna Chapman, had been about to leave for Moscow.

Ms Chapman has been painted as the femme fatale of the alleged spy ring, with several glamorous photos posted on her page on Facebook.

She was reportedly lured to a Manhattan coffee shop by an undercover FBI agent after which, in an intercepted phone call, she was told her cover might have been blown and she should leave the US.

Assistant US Attorney Michael Farbiarz said the arrests were "the tip of the iceberg" of the workings of Russia's SVR.

Five of the suspects, including Ms Chapman, briefly appeared in a Manhattan federal court on Monday, where a judge ordered them to remain in prison until a preliminary hearing set for 27 July.

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