, HONG KONG, Jun 23 – Former spy Edward Snowden flew out of Hong Kong on Sunday, reportedly bound for Moscow and onwards to a third destination, momentarily escaping the clutches of US justice in a shock development sure to infuriate Washington.
Confirming his departure, the Hong Kong government said it had “no legal basis” to prevent the 30-year-old leaving because the US government had failed to provide enough information to justify its provisional arrest warrant filed on Friday.
“Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel,” it said in a statement, without confirming his destination.
The former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor was aboard Aeroflot flight SU213, according to the South China Morning Post, which has carried exclusive interviews with Snowden in Hong Kong. The plane was due to land at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport around 5:15pm (1315 GMT), according to flight tracking websites.
The latest interview on Sunday contained new revelations about US cyber-espionage against Chinese targets that drew a stinging response from China’s official news agency. The foreign ministry in Beijing had no immediate comment, either about the revelations or about Snowden’s plans.
“Moscow will not be his final destination,” the SCMP said, citing “credible sources”, and raised the possibility of Iceland or Ecuador as Snowden’s ultimate port of call.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said he had no information that Snowden was flying to Moscow. Russian media reports said he could be heading on to Cuba.
On its Twitter feed, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks operation claimed credit for helping to arrange “Mr Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers and safe exit from Hong Kong”, without revealing the final destination. It said he was currently in Russian airspace.
Snowden came to Hong Kong on May 20 to begin a damaging series of leaks on NSA eavesdropping of phones and computer systems that has triggered concern from governments around the world. President Barack Obama’s US administration insists the surveillance was legal and had foiled a number of extremist plots.
Snowden’s departure could bring US repercussions against Hong Kong but more broadly will be a shock to the Obama administration, which just on Friday had unveiled charges including theft and espionage against him in a bid to force his return from Hong Kong.
White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon had said the charges “present a good case for extradition under the treaty, the extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong”.
“Hong Kong has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters, and we expect them to comply with the treaty in this case,” he told CBS Radio News on Saturday.