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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Spy suspect apparently flies the island coop ]

Spy suspect apparently flies the island coop

Author: 
Stefanos Evripidou

THE ALLEGED Russian paymaster responsible for handling a spy ring of “deep cover” agents in the US is suspected of fleeing the island, Justice Minister Loucas Louca said yesterday.

Christopher Robert Metsos, 54, was stopped at Larnaca airport last Tuesday after being accused by the US of supplying funds to a group of ten suspected Russian agents arrested in the US last Sunday.

The Canadian passport holder was arrested and taken to Larnaca district court where the prosecution requested his remand until extradition to the US could be arranged. To the horror of the police, and “disappointment” of the US State Department, Metsos was released on bail of €26,500. He jumped bail the very next day and has since gone missing.

Speaking to Reuters yesterday, Louca said: “It’s my belief that he has left Cyprus, I do not think he is in areas controlled by the republic.”

His disappearance has widely been viewed by the international press as a stain on the effectiveness of the country’s institutions and law enforcement agencies, while some have gone as far as suggesting Cyprus’ close ties to Moscow played a part in his unlikely release from custody.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters on Thursday: “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.”

So far, at least one of the suspects in the US has been released on bail, but under much stricter conditions, including house arrest and electronic tagging.

Both Louca and the police have blamed his flight from sight on the judge’s decision to grant bail. However, the fugitive’s lawyer Michalis Papathanasiou yesterday said the judge took the right decision under the circumstances. He suggested that the prosecution did not present enough information for the judge to act differently. “What I saw in court wasn’t enough,” he said.

He also rubbished reports in the local press that he had information that Metsos was the owner of eight passports. The lawyer said the 54-year-old only showed him one passport when asked to submit his travel documents before being released on bail.

A source in the legal services countered, arguing that the prosecution put everything they had before the court but that they had thin information to go on from Interpol. The Interpol “red” notice was very brief and could have been better, said the source, adding that some more information came later from the Americans but only after the hearing.

While the predominant view among US officials is that the Cypriot authorities clearly could have done more to prevent the alleged paymaster from slipping through their hands, some questions still remain unanswered. Why was Metsos allowed to leave the US in the first place? Given that he was in Cyprus from June 17, why was the Interpol message only sent on June 26? And if the US agencies knew he was here, why did they not keep tabs on him after he was released on bail?

Adding to the mystery surrounding the case, the state broadcaster CyBC yesterday reported that the man known as Metsos had in fact adopted the identity of a dead five-year-old Canadian child.

It also reported that police were in possession of the man’s laptop, allegedly confiscated after his arrest at the airport. The CyBC said a high-level official from the US Embassy visited police headquarters yesterday, apparently to discuss ways of getting their hands on the laptop.

The state broadcaster also cited sources saying there are suspicions the suspect has left the island via the sea.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos last night refused to comment on the identity of Metsos or on the existence of a laptop. Asked to comment, he refused to confirm or deny the reports. If true, then at least one thing can be said for certain, the chances of the laptop fleeing the country are minimal.

Meanwhile, a number of foreign press reports on the ‘spy ring’ case have taken a more cynical tone, hinting that the two charges facing most suspects, acting as a non-registered foreign agent and money laundering, were pretty tame in comparison to other more high-profile spies busted.

The “deep cover” allegedly adopted by the group, some of whom have families, houses and convivial photographs on Facebook, the social networking site, have turned the story more into one of a suburban spy saga.

The Guardian yesterday quoted one suspect’s lawyer in the US saying the evidence against his client was “extremely thin”.

“It essentially suggests that they successfully infiltrated neighbourhoods, cocktail parties and the PTA (Parent Teachers’ Association). My client looks forward to facing the charges,” said Peter Krupp.



(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.



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