The Cyprus Disconnection
Cyprus hunts for alleged Russian spy paymaster
By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS and CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Russian money and influence have long made a splash on this Mediterranean resort island where a suspected spy paymaster vanished after being allowed to walk free on bail.
The ties go right to the top: Russian energy giant Lukoil has a big presence, and the Greek Cypriot president, a communist who studied in Moscow, is expecting an illustrious visitor in October - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Embarrassed authorities searched airports, ports and yacht marinas Thursday for the suspect, identified as Christopher Robert Metsos. Freed on $33,000 (euro27,000) bail, he failed to show for a required meeting with police on Wednesday.
There's no evidence for now that the deep Russian presence in Cyprus played a role in his release, but the Cypriot government is under pressure to explain the bewildering fumble involving a man wanted in the United States for allegedly operating a Russian spy ring there.
Ten suspects are in custody in the U.S., where federal prosecutors said Thursday one man had confessed to federal agents that he worked for Russia's intelligence service. Six suspects appeared in courts in New York and Boston, while a hearing in Alexandria, Va., was postponed. Most of the suspects are charged with crimes that carry penalties of up to 25 years.
The case, a throwback to the Cold War era, recalls Cyprus' own heyday as a place of intrigue, a listening post for spies of all stripes who maneuvered in the Middle East and a convenient transit point for the shady figures of espionage.
Greek Cypriot police examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island, fearing the suspect may have slipped into the Turkish Cypriot north, a diplomatic no-man's land recognized only by Turkey.
But the fugitive might feel more at home in the Greek-speaking south, where tens of thousands of Russians own mansions and offshore accounts, read Russian-language newspapers and send their children to Russian schools. Recently, the tourist town of Limassol hosted a Russian festival that was opened by Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias.
Cyprus is a top gateway of foreign investment into Russia, and is a popular destination for Russian capital because of low taxes. Cypriot firms have been used as holding companies to avoid taxation in Russia. In recent years, Cyprus took steps to open up bank records so Russian authorities could track tax dodgers. ad_icon
The political links are tight, too. Christofias, the only communist head of state in the European Union, earned a doctorate in history in Russia and speaks the language. He has welcomed Russian support for peace talks with the Turkish-speaking north, and his foreign minister met his Russian counterpart last week.
On Thursday, as police scoured the island for Metsos, Christofias was hosting an event at the presidential palace to mark the arrival of one of Russia's largest banks, Gazprombank.
In Nicosia, Justice Minister Loucas Louca admitted that a judge's decision to release Metsos "may have been mistaken" and said authorities were examining leads on his possible whereabouts.
What a wonderfully well managed foreign policy the United States has. What a magnificent governmental organization US citizens appear to have in the State Department, which has traded away their interests to curry favor with foreign governments such as the Republic of Cyprus whose president is a Communist and whose government is evidently at the disposal of Russian spymasters, whose approach to managing international relations apparently does not in any way correspond to what US citizens think of when the word "honorable" is mentioned.
And what a magnificent organization US archaeologists seem to have in the AIA, which after all that it and other archaeological institutions did to curry favor with the Baathist regime in Iraq - arguably the most evil and unprincipled since the Third Reich - subsequently did everything in its power to ensure that the Republic of Cyprus would get whatever it wanted from the US State Department.
There is a higher law than the cynical back room deals by which the State Department, at the behest of the AIA, double-crossed and betrayed the interests of US citizens interested in the licit collecting of minor antiquities such as ancient coins. There is a higher law than "archaeologie ueber alles" which seems to be the doctrinaire approach of the AIA in determining its attitude toward private collecting. It is time that this higher law is considered.
Perhaps it is also time for the US State Department to give some thought to how it is being perceived by the citizens of this great Republic, and for the AIA to consider whether it is really in the best interests of that organization to be associated with foreign governments such as the Baathist regime in Iraq and the Republic of Cyprus.
Above all it is time for the President of the United States, who has said so many well sounding things about the importance of transparency in government, to actually take some concrete measures to ensure that there will finally be some real transparency and honesty in the management of US policy regarding cultural property. That cannot possibly happen unless external controls are imposed upon State Department functionaries, whose approach to date has been to impose obsessive secrecy motivated no doubt, by concern that genuine transparency would disclose the unscrupulous and unethical alignment between State Department officials and the archaeology lobby.