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Alleged Canadian spymaster granted bail in Cyprus

A police officer is seen inside Larnaca police station, where Christopher Robert Metsos is to present himself daily in accordance with his bail conditions.

Andreas Lazarou/AFP/Getty Images

The Atrium Zenon Apartments is an anonymous cube of whitewashed concrete studded with balconies in the sun-blasted centre of Larnaca, the beach resort town on the south coast of Cyprus.

When a middle-aged man walked in and booked a room on June 17, he attracted little notice. At the airport, he had described himself to immigration officials as a tourist from Canada, according to police sources. He carried a familiar blue passport with gold embossing, bearing the name Christopher Robert Metsos, age 55. Nobody knows what he did for the next dozen days.

On Friday, Interpol sent a wire to Cyprus authorities that placed his name on a travel stop-list called the Red Notice.

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On Sunday, U.S. officials rounded up 10 people in the New York and Washington areas and accused them of being Russian spies. When the arrests were announced Monday, Mr. Metsos was named as the their spymaster and the manhunt for his whereabouts was public.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday, according to Cyprus officials, he took a cab to the airport, with his Canadian passport and a one-way ticket to Budapest in hand. It seems that Mr. Metsos knew he was in trouble. Police on the island say he had heard of the arrests of the people in the United States accused of being Russian spies.

At 3:00 in the morning, he was stopped at passport control and immediately placed under arrest. A few hours later, he appeared in the Larnaca courthouse, dressed in the shorts and T-shirt of a tourist. Those in the courtroom say he spent most of the time staring at the floor.

His saga seemed to have ended. Then, as the morning sun began to bake the courthouse walls, the unlikely happened - he was allowed to go free and disappeared.

Mr. Metsos was taken before a Larnaca District Court at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and told the judge that he was 55 years old, divorced, Canadian and has a son currently living in Paris.

State Prosecutor Marina Spyliotopoulou told the court he is wanted in connection with charges of espionage and money laundering to the tune of $40,000 (U.S.), and that he should be held in police custody until his extradition trial, which will take place on July 29.

Mr. Metsos's lawyer, Michalis Papathanasiou, objected to the detention and instead requested that the court release his client on €20,000 bail. To the considerable shock of most observers, the judge accepted that offer. "I think it must have been a case of a very inexperienced judge," a Cypriot official close to the case said.

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The bail was paid by the lawyer, and Mr. Metsos handed over his passport and travel documents and agreed to make an appearance at Larnaca Central Police Station, a stucco building about two minutes' walk from the marina and a five-minute drive from Larnaca International Airport. He told the court that the Atrium Zenon was his place of residence, and that he would remain there until his extradition hearing.

That did not last long. Desk staff at the hotel say that at exactly noon Tuesday, two hours after the court hearing began, Mr. Metsos checked out.

On the hotel registry, under "Country arrived from," he had written Canada. He did not write down his next destination.

Perhaps he has moved to another location in Larnaca, to escape the photographers and reporters who swarm the hotel. But there are other options.

Most taxi drivers here, for about $50, will happily drive you across the Green Line, the border that divides Cyprus from the Turkish-occupied semi-state of North Cyprus; they will usually take back roads to avoid border checks. It is easy to cross the border without a passport.

Once in North Cyprus, a flight to Turkey, available on half a dozen small airlines flying from several airports, counts as a domestic journey, and therefore does not require a passport.

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The harbour of Larnaca, a few minutes' walk from the hotel, is swarming with private charter craft of all sizes, with captains happy to take visitors on jaunts to the shores of Turkey, Israel, Lebanon or Syria.

Throughout its history, Cyprus has served as a place from which to escape the West.

John Leonidou is Special to The Globe and Mail

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