Kevin Hiebert of Winnipeg, serving life in a Greek prison for drug smuggling, became an international fugitive after failing to return to the prison while on leave last week.

A Canadian man convicted in Greece nine years ago for drug smuggling is on the run after failing to return to prison last week from a temporary release.

Winnipegger Kevin Hiebert, 35, was convicted in Greece of drug smuggling in 1999 and sentenced there to life in prison.

He admits guilt, but has been fighting to have his sentence transferred so he could return to Canada.

Last Thursday Hiebert failed to return to prison after being released on a temporary supervised absence.

Hiebert’s cousin, Cam Patterson, said that when he last spoke to Hiebert three weeks ago, there was hope there might be a break in his application to return to Canada. But that appeared to fall through. 

"It’s become a situation where it is a forgotten issue, it's long past being a legal issue, it's long past being a justice issue — it is a political one. And he is getting forgotten here."

According to published reports, Hiebert's father Dick arrived in Greece to sign his son out of prison for an approved "vacation," which allows well-behaved inmates a temporary supervised release. The father has since returned to his home in Texas and has reportedly said he knows nothing about his son's whereabouts.

Patterson also said the situation in the Greek prison was becoming unbearable. There had been riots and hunger strikes. He speculated Hiebert may have become desperate. "I think Kevin hit that point," Patterson said.                                   

Hiebert was arrested at Athens airport in 1999 as he tried to smuggle two kilograms of cocaine into the country from South America.

Canada has a prison-transfer treaty with Greece, and Hiebert has unsuccessfully applied three times under that program. Last spring in an interview with CBC News, Hiebert said that while he admitted his guilt, he wanted to return home to serve his time in Canada.

"I thought that going back to Canada, going inside the prison [system here] and being rehabilitated properly with the social staff and the social securities that we have there in Canada would definitely help me more."