Police were hunting yesterday for a key suspect in the Russia-US spy scandal who vanished in Cyprus, as 10 other alleged Kremlin spies were due to appear before US courts to request bail.
In a stunning twist to a Cold War-style espionage saga that has threatened to upset efforts to reset US-Russia ties, Christopher Metsos, said to be in his mid-50s, disappeared after a Cypriot court released him on bail.
The alleged spy ring was cracked earlier this week as FBI agents finally pounced on 10 alleged Russian agents in Boston, New York and the Washington area after more than a decade of exhaustive surveillance operations.
After initially reacting with fury, Russia has since been at pains to prevent the scandal spiraling into a major diplomatic crisis and said it does not expect the incident to harm relations.
But the Russian press has been highly skeptical, questioning if the suspects were really spies and blaming the scandal on elements in the US opposed to US President Barack Obama’s policy of reconciliation with Russia.
“It’s as if James Bond finally opens his super briefcase — and all you find inside are some socks and some chicken wrapped in foil,” wrote the pro-Kremlin mass circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Metsos, who purports to be a Canadian citizen, is accused of being the paymaster for a “deep cover” cell of spies in the US, furnishing them with money and swapping bags covertly with other Russian operatives.
He was arrested early on Tuesday at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport as he tried to board a flight to Budapest. But was not deemed enough of a flight risk to be kept behind bars until he could be extradited to the US.
There was no sign of the suspected secret agent when Cypriot police rushed to his hotel room on Wednesday after he failed to sign in at a Larnaca police station between 6pm and 8pm, breaking the terms of his bail.
Cypriot police yesterday said all exit points from the island were being monitored as was the line dividing the Turkish-held north from the Greek Cypriot south.
The remaining 10 spy suspects were scheduled to have their bail requests heard in three separate hearings yesterday in federal courts in Boston, New York and Alexandria, Virginia.
The case of the 11 alleged “deep cover” agents who are suspected of trying to infiltrate US policymaking circles harks back to Cold War hostilities, with the use of false identities and tales of buried money and hidden video cameras.
Much attention has been paid to Russian suspect Anna Chapman, 28, described as a flame-haired femme fatale in the tabloids and accused of using elaborate communication rituals to pass information to her Russian handler.
Russian media have reported that Chapman is a young businesswoman who moved in the highest sections of society, the daughter of a former Russian ambassador and the ex-wife of a British executive of a French supermarket firm.
“Everyone who knows Anna Chapman well are sure: She was a businesswoman and that was all. Developing new ideas, her own business was all that interested her in life,” wrote popular news site lifenews.ru.
The White House said Obama knew the FBI was closing in on the spies when he hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a summit three days before the arrests, although it appears he failed to mention it in their meetings.
Medvedev has yet to comment on the scandal although Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has criticized US law enforcement authorities “for letting themselves go” while also hoping the scandal will not harm ties.
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