'Spy ring' prosecutor warns of flight risk

'Spy ring' prosecutor warns of flight risk

A US prosecutor warned that a powerful and sophisticated network of US-based Russian agents was eager to help defendants in an alleged spy ring flee the country on bail.

US authorities also said one defendant confessed that he worked for Russia’s intelligence service and others had large amounts of cash.

“There are a lot of Russian government officials in the United States who are actively assisting this conspiracy,” Assistant US Attorney Michael Farbiarz told US Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis as he argued that those arrested last weekend should remain held without bail.

Mr Ellis ruled that two defendants, Cynthia and Richard Murphy, should remain in custody because there was no other way to guarantee they would not flee since it was unclear who they were.

But he set bail of $250,000 for prominent Spanish-language journalist Vicky Pelaez, a US citizen born in Peru, saying she did not appear to be trained as a spy.

The judge required electronic monitoring and home detention and said she would not be freed before Tuesday, giving prosecutors time to appeal.

Mr Ellis ruled after Mr Farbiarz said the evidence against the defendants continued to mount and the case was solid.

“Judge, this is a case where the evidence is extraordinarily strong. Prosecutors don’t get cases like this very often,” he said.

The decision to set bail for one defendant came as police on the island nation of Cyprus searched airports, ports and yacht marinas to find a man who had been going by the name Christopher Metsos, who disappeared after a judge there freed him on $32,500 bail.

Metsos failed to show up for a required meeting with police on Wednesday. He was charged by US authorities with supplying funds to the other members of the ring.

Authorities also examined surveillance video from crossing points on the war-divided island, fearing the suspect might have slipped into the breakaway north, a diplomatic no-man’s-land that is recognised only by Turkey and has no extradition treaties.

“This is a case that in the course of less than a week has gotten much, much better,” Mr Farbiarz said, citing $80,000 in new, hundred dollar bills found in the safe-deposit box of two defendants who had been living in New Jersey.

Mr Farbiarz said a criminal complaint filed against the defendants was “relatively long but the complaint is the tip of an iceberg”.

The prosecutor said new evidence included the discovery of multiple mobile phones and multiple currencies in a safe deposit box and other “tools of the trade when they’re in this business”.

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