NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus police issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for a suspected Russian spy who jumped bail while the United States government expressed regret at a court’s decision to free him in the first place.
Christopher Robert Metsos, 55, accused by U.S. authorities of being a paymaster for a network of Russian agents in the U.S., failed to report to a police station on Wednesday, violating terms of bail granted a day earlier.
Police said Metsos was wanted for “disobeying a court order”.
A spokesman said they had no indications where he might be, although the justice minister said he was optimistic.
“From our inquiries it has not yet been established whether he has left the Republic of Cyprus,” police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said.
Metsos had cleared out his holiday apartment, leaving behind a pair of slippers and a “please do not disturb” sign hanging on the door. Police could not discount the possibility he fled through the island’s Turkish-controlled north, the spokesman said.
The U.S. embassy in Nicosia, which had been silent on the affair, barely concealed its frustration.
“We are disappointed that Christopher Robert Metsos was released on bail following his arrest in Cyprus. As we had feared, having been given unnecessarily the chance to flee, Mr Metsos did so,” embassy spokesman James Ellickson-Brown said.
A police photograph of Metsos showed a man of medium build, balding with grey hear, sporting rimless spectacles and a neat moustache. It was taken in Cyprus on June 29, shortly before he was released on bail, police said.
A Canadian passport holder, Metsos was arrested as he attempted to fly out of Cyprus in the early hours of June 29 for Budapest. On the same day, a local court ordered he be freed on bail, rejecting a request from police he remain in custody until an extradition hearing scheduled for July 29.
As an island, Cyprus has numerous getaway routes, and its ethnic division is an additional back door.
The south is run by an internationally recognised government, the north is a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state unrecognised internationally and the two have no diplomatic relations. A 180-km (112-mile) long ceasefire line, though monitored by U.N. troops, is highly porous.
The case is highly embarrassing for Cyprus, which has a widely respected judicial system. However, its decision to release the suspect raised many eyebrows.
“Cyprus police had asked the court to hold him ... unfortunately the decision of the court was different and we had the development we had,” government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told Reuters Television.
Police sources said surveillance of Metsos had been “discreet” when he was released on bail.
However police spokesman Katsounotos said: “Any surveillance of the specific individual could not get to the point of violating his privacy.”
Metsos had checked in with police on the first day of his bail, on June 29. On Wednesday, the day of his disappearance, he was expected to discuss terms of his case with his lawyer, but Metsos did not communicate with him, the lawyer told Reuters.
Larnaca, a seafront town where Metsos had been staying from June 17, is about 20 km from the ceasefire line which splits the island.
A spokesman for Turkish Cypriot police said they had no knowledge of Metsos being in the north.
In the United States, Metsos and his 10 co-accused face charges of collecting information ranging from research programmes on small-yield, high-penetration nuclear warheads to the global gold market, and seeking background on people who applied for jobs at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The 55-year-old was accused of receiving and making payments to the other members of the group.
U.S. Justice Department documents say he received payments during a brush-pass with a Russian government official who was affiliated with the Russian mission to the United Nations in New York, and of burying cash to be retrieved by other suspects.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)