Did China orchestrate Snowden’s exit from Hong Kong?

Beijing would not step forward to the front stage because it will affect Sino-US relations, a lawyer said.

Last Updated: Jun 24, 2013, 10:32 AM IST

Beijing: A Hong Kong legislator revealed Monday he had acted as Edward Snowden`s lawyer, and said he suspected Beijing orchestrated the former CIA agent`s departure which allowed him to evade the grasp of US authorities.

Snowden arrived in Moscow on Sunday and is expected to head for asylum in Ecuador, in a dramatic flight after Washington charged him with espionage over his leaks on a global spying and hacking programme.

Albert Ho, one of Hong Kong`s most respected pro-democracy lawmakers, said Snowden received a message several days ago from a figure who advised him to leave and said he would be given safe passage.

"Someone who claimed to represent the government... notified him through a middleman," he said, adding that the figure did not indicate whether he represented Hong Kong or Beijing.

"I have reasons to believe that... those who wanted him to leave represented Beijing authorities," Ho told reporters, adding that Hong Kong officials he contacted were unable to tell him anything about the offer.

"The Hong Kong government has no power to decide or say anything whatsoever, not even the power to notify me (about an official stance)," said Ho, the former chairman of the Democratic Party.

"Beijing would not step forward to the front stage because it will affect Sino-US relations. So, it would operate behind the scenes to make Snowden go. The Hong Kong government may not have had any role other than not stopping him at the airport."

Ho, who assigned lawyers from his firm to escort Snowden to the airport, said they reported plainclothes officers shadowed him as he departed for Moscow.

The 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor is wanted by the United States on espionage charges after he fled to Hong Kong in late May. He left the city despite Washington having requested his arrest and extradition.

Hong Kong officials have said the documentation supporting the arrest warrant was incomplete but US authorities denied there was anything missing and said Hong Kong`s failure to act was "troubling".
US Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said the move came as a "very big surprise".

"China clearly had a role in this, in my view. I don`t think this was just Hong Kong without Chinese acquiescence, she said on CBS`s "Face the Nation" programme.

While Beijing retains control over its defence and foreign policy, and the right to veto extradition decisions, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the handover agreement that governed its transfer from British rule in 1997.

Snowden`s shock departure has disappointed rights advocates in the southern Chinese city, after he initially said he would stay and fight extradition in what would have been an important test for Hong Kong`s judicial independence.