Cyprus hunts for spy paymaster

Red-faced authorities in Cyprus searched airports, ports and yacht marinas Thursday in a hunt for a suspected Russian spy-ring paymaster who vanished after being allowed to walk free on bail.

Christopher Robert Metsos

Christopher Robert Metsos

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Red-faced authorities in Cyprus searched airports, ports and yacht marinas Thursday in a hunt for a suspected Russian spy-ring paymaster who vanished after being allowed to walk free on bail.

Police also examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island, fearing that the suspect may have slipped into the breakaway north of the island, a diplomatic no-mans-land recognized only by Turkey.

Justice Minister Loucas Louca admitted that a judge’s decision to release Christopher Robert Metsos “may have been mistaken” but said authorities were examining leads on his possible whereabouts.

“We have some information and we hope that we will arrest him soon,” Louca told reporters Thursday, without elaborating.

Metsos, 54, is wanted in the United States on charges that he supplied money to the spy ring that operated under deep cover in America’s suburbs.

Ten other spy suspects were arrested in the U.S. on Sunday and nine of them faced bail hearings later Thursday. A tenth suspect has already been denied bail and is being detained in the U.S.

Metsos’ disappearance is a major embarrassment to Cyprus, a holiday island once considered a hotbed of Cold War intrigue, with sovereign British bases, nonaligned status and proximity to the Middle East.Authorities have promised to do everything possible to find the suspect who claimed he was a tourist travelling on a Canadian passport.

Metsos was arrested Tuesday in Cyprus on an Interpol warrant while waiting to board a flight for Budapest, Hungary, but a Cypriot judge freed him on C27,000 ($33,000) bail. Metsos failed to appear Wednesday for a required meeting with police, igniting the manhunt.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said there were “no indications yet” that Metsos had left the internationally recognized south of the island — and told The Associated Press that “the nagging question of why he was released on bail is best posed to the court, not the police.”

The American ambassador to Cyprus, Frank Urbancic, held an hour-long meeting with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias on Thursday, but a government spokesman insisted the U.S. had made no formal complaint.

“The investigation is in the hands of the Cypriot government,” a spokesman for the American embassy said when asked if the United States had contacted authorities in northern Cyprus about the fugitive.

Cyprus was split into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

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