x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

US leaker Snowden stays out of sight after leaving Hong Kong

The former United States spy agency contractor, Edward Snowden, kept people guessing about his whereabouts and plans yesterday after fleeing Hong Kong for Moscow.

MOSCOW // The former United States spy agency contractor, Edward Snowden, kept people guessing about his whereabouts and plans yesterday after fleeing Hong Kong for Moscow.

Mr Snowden, who is wanted by Washington after leaking details about US surveillance, stayed out of sight after the plane he was believed to be on landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

A source at the Russian airline Aeroflot said Mr Snowden would fly to Cuba today and was expected to go on to Venezuela, although Ecuador later said he had asked it for asylum.

Passengers arriving from Hong Kong said he may have been whisked away from the runway by waiting cars, initially prompting speculation he may spend the night in a foreign embassy in the Russian capital.

"There were a lot of police and black cars when we were getting off the plane," said a passenger, who gave his name only as Olivier.

But a source at an airport hotel said he had spotted Mr Snowden there and Ecuador's ambassador to Russia, Patricio Alberto Chavez Zavala, later spent several minutes inside the building.

The envoy said that he expected to have talks with Mr Snowden and Sarah Harrison, a representative of the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group. The organisation's founder, Julian Assange, was granted asylum by Ecuador last year and has been staying at the country's embassy in the United Kingdom.

"We're waiting for Sarah. We're going to talk to them," the envoy said at the Capsule Hotel, which is intended for transit passengers who do not have a visa to enter Russia.

Ecuador later confirmed it had received an asylum request from Mr Snowden, but the ambassador declined to give more details.

Mr Snowden had been in hiding in Hong Kong for several weeks after he revealed information on the highly classified spy programmes. WikiLeaks said it was providing legal help to Mr Snowden at his request and that he was being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers.

Mr Assange has spent a year inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning about sex crime allegations. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that his organisation was in a position to help because it had expertise in international asylum and extradition law.

The US has revoked Mr Snowden's passport, a source said yesterday.

A US senator, Charles Schumer, charged that Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, likely knew and approved of Mr Snowden's flight from Hong Kong to Russia. He said that would "have serious consequences" for a US-Russian relationship already strained over Syria and human rights.

* With additional reporting by Associated Press