- Associated Press - Thursday, July 1, 2010

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — 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,” Mr. Louca told reporters Thursday, without elaborating.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Metsos‘ disappearance is a major embarrassment to Cyprus. The eastern Mediterranean island favored by tourists used to be a hotbed of Cold War intrigue, as spies converged at the crossroads of three continents — Europe, Africa and Asia. Authorities have promised to do everything possible to find the suspect who claimed he was a tourist traveling on a Canadian passport.

A man in Canada says the passport holder stole the identity of his dead brother.

Mr. 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 $33,000 bail. Mr. 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 Mr. 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 U.S. 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.

Turkey is bound by Interpol warrants, but northern Cyprus is not and also has no extradition treaties with other countries. Its only air links are to Turkey, but it has ferries that run to Turkey, Lebanon and Syria.

In 1993, businessman Asil Nadir jumped bail and fled Britain for northern Cyprus, where he still resides.

Mr. Katsounotos says Mr. Metsos arrived on the island June 17, Cypriot authorities received the Interpol arrest warrant June 25, and he was arrested four days later.

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