Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 09/26/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
He's spent the last 14 years serving an indefinite prison sentence in a Greek prison.
Now, a Winnipeg man who got caught up in an international drug-smuggling scheme is on the verge of a happy homecoming many thought would never happen.
Kevin Hiebert, 40, is set to be released this fall after years of legal wrangling and pleading from his large network of family and friends. He will board a plane and return to Canada for the first time since 1999.
"It's definitely happening," an ecstatic Dick Hiebert told the Free Press Wednesday. He has visited his son numerous times in Greece and keeps in regular contact by telephone while splitting his time between homes in Winnipeg and Texas.
"It's all been signed. He will be a free man," he said. "I'm still on a high."
Although the release date hasn't been fixed, Hiebert believes it will be in the next few weeks.
Kevin Hiebert's story could be the plot of a Hollywood crime thriller. He has never denied wrongdoing, but supporters have long claimed he was used as a pawn by sophisticated criminals, duped by the Greek justice system and abandoned by his own government.
Just 26, Hiebert was one of several Canadians arrested for drug smuggling in late 1999, allegedly tied to the same criminal operation. The RCMP said at the time they were likely recruited on behalf of a Nigerian drug-trafficking ring operating out of Greece.
The first four people arrested in September 1999 in Amsterdam led authorities to Hiebert. Police were waiting for him at the Athens airport as he tried to smuggle two kilograms of cocaine in the heels of three pairs of shoes.
At Hiebert's September 2000 trial, his Greek lawyer told Hiebert he could expect a sentence of three to five years, but the judges shocked the courtroom when they imposed a life sentence, with no eligibility of parole for 10 to 15 years, and a US$150,000 fine.
Hiebert -- who had no criminal record -- immediately wanted to appeal the sentence, but was told that hearing couldn't be held until 2005 at the earliest. He was told his best bet would be to apply for a transfer to Canada, where he could serve his sentence in a Canadian prison. To do that, he would have to sign away his right to appeal.
Greek authorities originally supported the move, but backed away when Canadian Embassy officials erroneously told them the maximum sentence for a similar conviction here was three years. In fact, the maximum sentence in Canada is the same -- a life sentence -- but the most likely sentence for a first-time offender such as Hiebert would be three to five years.
His Winnipeg lawyer, Michael Mercury, said Canada has a prison-transfer treaty with Greece and Hiebert applied on several occasions, but was rejected each time. Mercury said Greek officials told him the opposition came from Ottawa.
Hiebert's incarceration has taken a toll on his family. His mother felt betrayed by the lifestyle he was living at the time and after his sentencing suffered a nervous breakdown. She died of leukemia in late 2012.
Hiebert was back in the news in 2008 when he became an international fugitive after getting a leave from prison, then failing to return. He spent nearly a year at large before he was arrested in Amsterdam and returned to custody, where he has remained ever since.
Dick Hiebert said Wednesday everything came together in recent months when Greek officials determined his son had spent enough time in custody and had been a model prisoner.
"He's remained so positive throughout this," he said.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2013 B1
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