Hong Kong officials say the US government got National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s middle name wrong in documents it submitted seeking his arrest.
Snowden hid in Hong Kong for several weeks after revealing secret US surveillance programs. Hong Kong allowed him to fly to Moscow on Sunday, saying a US request for his arrest did not fully comply with its requirements.
Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen (袁國強) said on Wednesday that discrepancies in the paperwork filed by US authorities were to blame.
He said Hong Kong immigration records listed Snowden’s middle name as Joseph, but the US government used the name James in some documents and referred to him only as Edward J. Snowden in others.
“These three names are not exactly the same, therefore we believed that there was a need to clarify,” he said.
Yuen said US authorities also did not provide Snowden’s passport number.
The decision to let Snowden leave Hong Kong irked the White House, which said it damaged US-Chinese relations.
Hong Kong officials have pushed back, saying that they followed the city’s rule of law in processing the US request.
Yuen said the confusion over Snowden’s identification and his passport were among factors that delayed an arrest. He said the government requested clarification from its counterparts in the US on Friday afternoon last week.
“Up until the moment of Snowden’s departure, the very minute, the US Department of Justice did not reply to our request for further information. Therefore, in our legal system, there is no legal basis for the requested provisional arrest warrant,” Yuen said.
In the absence of such a warrant, the “Hong Kong government has no legal basis for restricting or prohibiting Snowden leaving Hong Kong.”
Meanwhile, Snowden was believed to still be at a Moscow airport yesterday and officials said he had not booked a flight out, despite pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin to leave.
The 30-year-old American, who faces espionage charges in the US, has asked Ecuador for political asylum.
Russian officials said he and his traveling companion, Sarah Harrison, remained in a transit area at Sheremetyevo Airport.
An immigration official said Snowden had not applied for a visa to enter Russia and that he could remain in the transit area “as long as he wants” without applying for a transit visa.