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Archive for Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spy swap mystery: Bail jumper who vanished

July 11, 2010

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— The United States and Russia swapped 14 spies with precision, but one piece of the puzzle remains: The alleged spy who disappeared after posting bail in Cyprus.

Did he flee on his own? Get away with help from the Russians? Trick local residents into unwittingly aiding an escape? Meet some other fate?

The public doesn’t even know his true name.

The alleged paymaster of the Russian spy ring was arrested June 29 in Cyprus on an Interpol warrant while trying to board a flight to Budapest, Hungary, two days after his 10 alleged co-conspirators were arrested in the United States. His companion, a beautiful younger woman, was allowed to fly out.

But the case dissolved into rumor-fueled confusion hours later when the suspect, who called himself Christopher Metsos, vanished after handing over a Canadian passport that claimed he was 54 and got released on bail. Police escorted him to a bank, where he took out $33,000 to pay the bail. Late that afternoon, he returned to a hotel and was never seen again.

No one apparently blanched that a man who had been acting like a budget tourist during his 13-day stay in Larnaca had such easy access to thousands in cash.

Metsos was “Defendant No. 1” in the criminal complaint that also named 10 Russian agents in the United States, all of whom were deported to Russia in exchange for four prisoners accused of spying for the West.

“If this man is what they say he was, he will have had some safe passage or probably turn up in Russia at some point,” said Huw Dylan, a lecturer in intelligence at the Department of War Studies at King’s College in London.

No evidence has emerged that events surrounding the Metsos mystery were linked to plans for a spy swap. American officials had said they were disappointed with his apparent escape. The Greek Cypriot government, in turn, said U.S. officials were slow to provide documents that would have made clear the importance of the suspect in their grasp.

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