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Ten suspected Russian spies due before US court

world Updated: Jul 01, 2010 17:49 IST

Ten suspects arrested in the Russian spy scandal will ask US courts on Thursday to release them during the probe, but their requests are at risk after the disappearance of an 11th suspect in Cyprus.

The 10 are to seek bail in three separate hearings to be held in federal courts in Boston, New York and Alexandria, Virginia.

First to appear at around 1600 GMT will be Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, arrested by the FBI in their Boston home on Sunday after more than a decade of exhaustive surveillance operations.

Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko, also presumed to be part of the spy ring, are due in a Virginia court at 18H00 GMT.

The five others are will appear at 2000 GMT before the same New York judge who at their first court hearing on Monday ordered they remain in detention because they were a flight risk.

The hearings come as police hunt for an 11th suspect, 54-year-old Christopher Robert Metsos, who disappeared after a Cypriot court released him on 26,500-euro (32,330-dollar) bail.

Metsos, who purports to be a Canadian citizen, is accused of being the paymaster for a "deep cover" cell of spies in the United States, furnishing them with money and swapping bags covertly with other Russian operatives.

He was arrested early on Tuesday at Cyprus's Larnaca airport as he tried to board a flight to Budapest but was not deemed enough of a flight risk to be kept behind bars until he could be extradited to the United States.

There was no sign of him when Cypriot police rushed to his hotel room on Wednesday after he failed to sign in at a Larnaca police station in terms of his bail.

The 11 alleged "deep cover" agents, who have not been formally charged, are suspected of trying to infiltrate US policymaking circles but the significance of their alleged work is not clear.

Washington and Moscow have sought to downplay the scandal.

US officials have said the scandal would not damage President Barack Obama's vaunted "reset" of ties with the Kremlin, and the country planned no diplomatic actions in response.

Russia initially reacted with fury but has since been at pains to prevent the scandal spiralling into a major diplomatic crisis and said it does not expect the incident to harm relations.

A first hearing has been fixed in New York on July 27 for Richard and Cynthia Murphy, Juan Lazaro, journalist Vicky Pelaez, and Russian businesswoman Anna Chapman, 28, the only suspect whose nationality has been confirmed.