Spy suspects appear in US courts
Nine people accused of being Russian agents request bail as Cyprus hunts missing suspect.
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2010 19:48 GMT
Russia and the US have sought to downplay the significance of the scandal

Nine suspects arrested in the United States on suspicion of spying for Russia are appearing in courts across the northeast of the country to request their release on bail.

The five men and four women were facing three separate hearings in federal courts in Boston, New York and Alexandria, Virginia on Thursday.

Anna Chapman, 28, a tenth suspect, had an earlier bail request denied on Monday.

The group, who were arrested on Sunday in Boston, New York and the Washington, have been accused of trying to infiltrate US policymaking circles, but have not been officially charged. 

The nine had appeared unlikely to be granted bail after an 11th suspected disappeared after being released on bail in Cyprus.

'Extremely thin'

Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, arrested by the FBI at their home on Sunday after more than a decade of exhaustive surveillance operations, appeared at a court in Boston.

Peter Krupp, Heathfield's lawyer, described the evidence against his lawyer as "extremely thin".

"It essentially suggests that they successfully infiltrated neighborhoods, cocktail parties and the PTA [Parent Teacher Association]," he said.

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Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from Washington DC, said that Foley asked to be referred to as "person number five" during court proceedings.

"This suggests a legal strategy whereby the accused will say it is up to the US government to prove who they say they are," he said

"The other thing that the accused asked for was to meet in prison so they could discuss what to do about their children ... there are a number of children involved in this so-called spy ring and some of those are in US federal custody at this point."

The judge granted a delay until July 16 to give Heathfield and Foley's new lawyers time to prepare their case.

A hearing scheduled to take place in Virginia was postponed after attorneys for Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills had just received new information from prosecutors, while Mikhail Semenko had not yet got a lawyer.

Four others were to 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 came as police hunt for Christopher Robert Metsos, 54, who disappeared after a Cypriot court released him on $32,330 bail.

Metsos, who purports to be a Canadian citizen, is accused of being the paymaster for a "deep cover" cell of spies in the US, 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 US.

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.

"We are disappointed that Christopher Metsos was released on bail following his arrest in Cyprus," Philip Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said.

"As we had feared, having been given, unnecessarily, the chance to flee, he did so."

Cypriots 'hopeful'

Loucas Louca, the Cypriot justice minsiter, said he was hopeful that Mestos would be rearrested on the island.

"We know his whereabouts roughly from the information we have collected," he said. "We have some information, and I hope that we will arrest him soon."

Police said all exit points from the Mediterranean island were being monitored as was theborder with the north of the divided island.

Washington and Moscow have sought to downplay the scandal.

US officials have said the scandal would not damage the "reset" of ties with the Kremlin, instigated by Barack Obama, the US president and that Washington plans no diplomatic action in response.

Russia initially reacted with fury to the allegations 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 Chapman, a Russian businesswoman.

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