Police in Cyprus issued an arrest warrant on Thursday for a suspected Russian spy wanted by the United States who vanished shortly after being freed on bail on the Mediterranean island.
Christopher Robert Metsos, 55, accused by U.S. authorities of being a paymaster for a network of Russian agents in the United States, failed to report to a police station on Wednesday, violating terms of his bail granted a day earlier.
Police said Metsos was wanted for "disobeying a court order". A spokesman said they had no indications of where he could be, though the island's justice minister said he was optimistic that Metsos could be caught.
"From our inquiries it has not yet been established whether he has left the Republic of Cyprus," said Michalis Katsounotos, a police spokesman.
Metsos had cleared out his holiday apartment, leaving behind only a pair of slippers. Police could not discount the possibility he fled through the island's Turkish controlled north, the spokesman said.
A police photograph of Metsos showed the suspect was of medium build, balding with grey hear, rimless spectacles and a neat moustache. It was taken in Cyprus on June 29, shortly before he was released on bail, police said.
Metsos is accused by U.S. authorities of having managed payments to a group of agents collecting information for Russian intelligence for at least a decade. Ten suspects were arrested in the United States on Sunday, causing a diplomatic stir.
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.
Being 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 miles) 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 said.
Police sources said surveillance of Metsos had been "discreet" when he was released on bail. However Katsounotos, the police spokesman, 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 pretty 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.
After checking out of one hotel on Tuesday, Metsos checked in to another complex of modest holiday apartments off the Larnaca seafront promenade.
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 had specifically been 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 which was then retrieved by other suspects.