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Snowden charged with espionage

Updated: 2013-06-23 07:49
By Chantal Valery ( China Daily)

US authorities have filed espionage charges against rogue intelligence technician Edward Snowden and have asked Hong Kong to detain him, a US official told AFP on Friday.

Confirming a report in the Washington Post, the official said a sealed criminal complaint has been lodged with a federal court in the US state of Virginia and a provisional arrest warrant has been issued.

Snowden was charged with espionage, theft and "conversion of government property."

His former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, a private company that seconded him to work as a contractor for the National Security Agency in Hawaii, is based in Virginia, and prosecutors there often handle security cases.

The 30-year-old technician fled Hawaii on May 20 and flew to Hong Kong, from where he proceeded to leak details of secret US intelligence programs to international media outlets.

The leaks have embarrassed US President Barack Obama's administration, which was forced to defend US intelligence agencies' practice of gathering huge amounts of telephone and Internet data from private users around the world.

Following reports of the sealed complaint, all eyes will turn to Hong Kong and Beijing to see whether China will agree to help the United States by complying with the provisional warrant and holding Snowden.

Hong Kong officials remained tight-lipped on Saturday as to whether Snowden had been approached by the law enforcement authorities or was still a free man. Police commissioner Andy Tsang told reporters it was "inconvenient" to disclose details of the case.

Tsang insisted any extradition request "has to go through... relevant institutions and also the courts for it to be handled" in the former British colony.

Snowden has told Britain's Guardian newspaper he might seek asylum in Iceland, which has strong Internet freedom laws, but he is thought to still be in Hong Kong and might now find it difficult to travel.

On Thursday, an Icelandic businessman connected to the activist website WikiLeaks said he was ready to fly Snowden out of Hong Kong and to safety in Iceland on a chartered jet.

Iceland has said it held informal talks with an intermediary of Snowden over the possibility of seeking political asylum, but that he must present himself on Icelandic soil.

Agence France-Presse