A former KGB agent is returning to Russia after hiding in a church in Canada for six years. He surrendered after fighting deportation over fears of repercussions in Russia - having revealed the names of other agents.
Russian Mikhail Lennikov, 55, left the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver where he had sought refuge in 2009, after Canada refused to grant him residence rights because of his KGB past.
Lennikov, who used to work for the Soviet security apparatus and had been threatened with deportation by Canada, was escorted by border officers to Toronto and boarded a flight to Moscow after surrendering to the authorities, his lawyer Hadayt Nazami said.
The ex-KGB agent was one of a handful of asylum seekers hiding out in Canadian churches to avoid deportation, but the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has refrained from entering places of worship to make arrests, and Nazami confirmed that officers had not entered the church to seize Lennikov.
"It was a voluntary departure through negotiations," said Nazami Sunday. "He wasn't deported."
Fears over Russia treason charges
Lennikov had earlier said he feared being charged with treason by Russian authorities because he had revealed the names of KGB agents, Canadian newspaper "National Post" reported.
The CBSA had previously written that Lennikov admitted to "having reported directly to the department of the KGB responsible for foreign intelligence and espionage," but that he claimed he had joined the KGB under duress, and he denied engaging in spying and was "a law-abiding resident with extensive ties to the community."
Although his wife Irina and son Dmitri have been accepted as immigrants, Lennikov was deemed inadmissible to Canada for espionage and was ordered to be deported, a decision that was upheld by the Federal Court in 2009.
Nazami declined to explain why Lennikov had decided to give up his fight, saying that he left Canada on Saturday.
He added that the Russian had been negotiating an agreement with the CBSA for some time, the National Post reported.
The deal did not involve Lennikov going to any country other than Russia, he said.
Lennikov case sparks political dispute over immigration
His high-profile case sparked political disputes, with Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) calling Lennikov's case an example of "a really wrong-headed immigration policy by this government" and arguing the Russian was not a threat to Canada.
The country's Conservative Party supported his deportation, however, saying that as a former member of the KGB he was unwelcome in Canada.
Lennikov first started cooperating with the KGB while he was at the Far Eastern State University in Russia, the National Post reported.
He was hired by the intelligence agency as a researcher on eastern Asia in 1982 for the Japanese section of the KGB, with his work including translating documents and assessing prospective Japanese informants' credibility, Canada's Federal Court wrote in a ruling.
He ascended through the ranks of the KGB until 1988, when he declared himself unsuitable for further service and was then dismissed.
He travelled to Japan before working at the University of British Columbia in 1997 on a study permit and applied for permanent residency in Canada two years, but his application was rejected because of his KGB past.