Canada has cancelled the passport of an alleged Russian spy who fled after being freed on bail in Cyprus.
A Passport Canada spokeswoman said the agency revoked the travel document issued to Christopher Metsos, the accused paymaster of a Russian espionage ring. "We conducted our review and cancelled the passport," Veronique Robitaille said Monday.
Cypriot officials confirmed earlier this month that Mr. Metsos had assumed the identity of a dead five-year-old Canadian boy to obtain a passport, raising questions about document security.
The officials said they learned the details from Renata Wielgosz, Canada's ambassador to Cyprus and Greece.
Other reports indicated Mr. Metsos had obtained the passport through the Canadian embassy in Johannesburg.
Mr. Metsos was among 11 people - four of whom claimed to be Canadian - indicted on charges of conspiring to act as secret agents in the United States on behalf of the SVR, the Russian Federation's successor to the infamous KGB.
Ten arrested in the U.S. were sent back to Moscow after pleading guilty, part of a swap for prisoners in Russia.
But Mr. Metsos, arrested June 29, skipped bail in Cyprus and hasn't surfaced since.
Until now, Canadian officials have said little about the spy caper that grabbed headlines around the world and rekindled memories of Cold War cloak-and-dagger intrigue. However, Passport Canada, the lead federal agency on the file, acknowledged it was looking into the matter.
"Where Passport Canada is informed that an individual may have provided false or misleading information to obtain a passport, or may have misused a passport, we review the matter and take appropriate action," Ms. Robitaille said Monday. She noted the Canadian Passport Order, legislation governing travel documents, allows the agency to revoke a passport if the holder:
- is charged in a foreign country with a crime that would constitute an indictable offence if committed in Canada;
- uses the passport to assist in committing an indictable offence; or
- has obtained the passport through false or misleading information.
It remains unclear how Mr. Metsos - described by the FBI as "a secret SVR agent who is based abroad" - was able to obtain a Canadian passport.
In 2006, it emerged that an alleged Russian spy using the alias Paul William Hampel relied on a bogus Ontario birth certificate to get passports in 1995, 2000 and 2002.
Ms. Robitaille declined to elaborate on the agency's review. "I can't provide any further details about the case."
During a recent visit to Ukraine, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he met with the 10 spies after they returned home to talk about life and sing patriotic songs. Mr. Putin, a former KGB official, praised their dedication and skill.
"Just imagine: First, you must know a foreign language as well as your native tongue," he said. "You must think in that language, fulfilling the tasks assigned to you in the interests of your homeland during many long years, without hope of diplomatic protection, putting your life and the life of your family in jeopardy every day."
In court documents, the FBI says Mr. Metsos often travelled to the U.S. to meet with agents and pay them on behalf of Moscow.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden told a Commons committee this month that foreign spies value the Canadian passport. "I think one of the reasons that Canada's so attractive is that we're so well-viewed around the world, and our passports are accepted virtually anywhere, so there is a level of concern."
The Canadian Press