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Russian spy case suspect vanishes in Cyprus

Anna Chapman

An alleged member of a Russian spy ring that authorities say operated under deep cover in America's suburbs vanished in Cyprus a day after being released on bail.

The man, who had gone by the name Christopher Metsos and was wanted in the US on charges he supplied money to the spy ring, had been arrested Tuesday in the Mediterranean island nation as he tried to board a flight for Budapest, Hungary.

On Wednesday, after a Cypriot judge had freed him on 32,500 dollars (£21,728) bail, he failed to show for a required meeting with police, and authorities began searching for him.

The US Justice Department and the FBI - which spent nearly a decade gathering evidence against some of the defendants in the case - refused to comment on Metsos' disappearance.

On Sunday, 10 other people, most of them believed to be Russians living under assumed names, were arrested across the north-east, accused of gathering information for Moscow on American business, scientific and political affairs while leading what appeared to be utterly ordinary suburban lives, right down to their well-kept lawns and the barbecues they threw on the Fourth of July.

Nine of the defendants were scheduled to appear before federal judges Thursday in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia. It was unclear whether Metsos' disappearance while out on bail might affect their own attempts to get out of jail pending trial.

The turn of events raised questions about why Cypriot authorities released Metsos.

"I'm truly surprised that the court issued no such detention order against an individual who is alleged to be a spy," said Ionas Nicolaou, chairman of Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee.

Andreas Pastellides, one of Metsos' lawyers in Cyprus, said: "Yes, it was a serious case, but God forbid if someone remains detained for a month until extradition proceedings can begin." He said Metsos had offered to surrender his passport and appear once a day at a local police station.

In the past, Cyprus been known as a regional hub for spies across the Middle East, since it lies near meeting point of Europe, Africa and Asia.