WASHINGTON: United States (US) authorities have filed espionage charges against rogue intelligence technician Edward Snowden and have asked Hong Kong to detain him, according to a US official.
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.” A report on NBC News said he was accused of sharing classified documents with individuals who were not cleared to received them.
Snowden’s 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, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, 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 US 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.