Suspected paymaster of Russian spy ring jumps bail

Cypriot police issue arrest warrant for 11th man after he vanishes from Larnaca
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The Independent US

One of the suspects in the Russian spy ring that is alleged to have targeted influential US establishment figures was missing last night after apparently jumping bail in Cyprus.

Local police were hunting for Christopher Metsos, the 11th suspected member of the group, who disappeared after he was released upon posting a €20,000 (£16,000) bond at a district court. He had been expected to sign in at a police station in the coastal town of Larnaca, but failed to show up, Reuters reported.

A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest. His lawyer in Cyprus, Michalis Papathanasiou, said that he had only been informed of his client's disappearance by the media. "Yesterday he told me he intended to appear at the police station," he told Bloomberg News.

Metsos, 55, had been stopped at Larnaca airport on Tuesday after Interpol issued a "red notice". He was due to board a flight for Budapest minutes later. Local police were said to have been surprised that he was granted bail. Suspects on the island are usually held for fear they will flee into the internationally unrecognised Turkish-run enclave in the north.

Metsos was facing an extradition hearing within 30 days. He is accused of acting as the paymaster for the US ring. The FBI claims he repeatedly travelled to the US to pay the spies on the behalf of the Russian SVR intelligence agency. The agency says that Metsos received money from a Russian government official in 2004, immediately passing some of it on to one member of the ring and burying the rest. Two years later, another two suspects dug the money up.

The 10 US-based members of the alleged ring were still in custody yesterday as new details emerged of their efforts to establish links to America's political elites. Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist in New York who served as the finance chairman for Mrs Clinton's campaign for the US Senate and a top fundraiser during her bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, revealed that he had been targeted by Cynthia Murphy, a member of the group who rose to become a vice-president of the Manhattan financial consulting firm where he is a client.

On some occasions when he went to the offices of Morea Financial Services, Mr Patricof met her directly. "It's just staggering," he told The Washington Post. "It's off the charts".

That Mrs Murphy was there – commuting by bus from her New Jersey home – precisely to get close to Patricof hardly seems in doubt. Messages from the intelligence bosses in Moscow intercepted by the FBI said one of the first missions of the undercover spies was to infiltrate circles of power and political influence.

And the FBI's criminal complaint against Mrs Murphy and her "husband" Richard speaks of their boasting to Moscow of cultivating a financier who was "prominent in politics" and "an active fundraiser" for a major political party, as well as "a personal friend" of a member of the Obama cabinet.

It also emerged yesterday that another member of the group studied in Boston with the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, 10 years ago. But not all were so successful. One seems to have made the biggest impression going to boozy parties sporting Bill Clinton facemasks and USSR T-shirts.

The connections – and failures – offer a glimpse of what the 10 alleged spies got up to during the months and years before they were abruptly rounded up by the FBI late last Sunday after an investigation that lasted seven years.

The scandal is potentially serious enough to threaten the newly thawed relations between the US and Russia, but the damage done to America may in the end be marginal. Other pieces of the puzzle now coming to light suggest these spies were more Sid James than Daniel Craig, bumbling along but unearthing little of real use to Moscow.

Each of the ring's members seems to generate their own intrigue. Take another of the couples caught in the Sunday round-up – Donald Howard Heathfield and his "wife" Tracey Lee Ann Foley of Boston. We now learn that he hoped to push open doors in high society and politics by attending the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; he graduated in 2000 after making the acquaintance of classmates who included future movers and shakers such as the Felipe Calderon.

Keeping tabs on as many of them as possible remained a top priority of Heathfield's, according to one classmate, Mark Podlasly. "He kept in touch with almost all of our international classmates," he said. "In Singapore, in Jakarta – he knew what everyone was doing. If you wanted to know where anybody was at, Don would know."

A Canadian man meanwhile alleged yesterday that Heathfield had stolen the identity of his brother, who died in Montreal in 1963, when he was six. David Heathfield said the Russians lifted the name, Donald Heathfield, from death notices in Montreal newspapers. Donald indeed told friends in Boston that he was a Canadian citizen.

Moscow seemed intent last night on down-playing the impact on bilateral ties. Certainly there seemed to be no signs of retaliation after the arrests. "We expect that the incident involving the arrest in the United States of a group of people suspected of spying for Russia will not negatively affect Russian-US relations," a Foreign Ministry official said.

As to why Moscow would even continue to maintain such a network so many years after the Cold War ended, when much of what the spies were gleaning might have come just as easily from Google, is a mystery. "Inertia might be the reason," Antonio Mendez, a former CIA officer and author suggested. "They [the Russians] have a lot of investment there and it's hard to give it up; it's hard to admit that you don't need it any more."

Among the other oddities about the case was the willingness of these so-called spies to draw attention to themselves with profiles on social network sites such as Facebook. It was on that site that Mikhail Semenko, another suspect arrested on Sunday, had posted pictures of himself in the Clinton mask and USSR souvenir T-shirt.

The spies and their targets...

Cynthia Murphy and Alan Patricof

Alleged spy Ms Murphy came into contact with Mr Patricof, a confidant of Hillary Clinton, at Morea Financial Services, a Manhattan firm where she worked and he was a client. Mr Patricof was last night keen to stress that the pair had "never discussed anything but paying the bills and taxes in normal phone calls or meetings".

Donald Heathfield and Felipe Calderon

Harvard University was the arena for the meeting of this Boston-based alleged spy, and the man who would go on to be President of Mexico. The pair both graduated from the Kennedy School of Government in 2000.