The U.S. government asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant June 14, the same day it filed criminal charges against him, including theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”
The fact that the U.S. government asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden emerged Friday when The Washington Post disclosed the contents of a sealed criminal complaint that alluded to the request.
Under an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States, a provisional warrant, as opposed to a regular one, is a faster way to detain suspected criminals since it does not require the initial approval of Hong Kong’s leader, currently Leung Chun-ying.
Instead, a judge can issue the warrant immediately. Simon Young, a legal professor at the University of Hong Kong, said that means a warrant for Snowden’s arrest could have been issued as early as June 14.
The office of Leung, Hong Kong’s chief executive, declined to comment on Snowden’s case Saturday. The police department did not respond to calls and e-mails.
Meanwhile, plans to protect Snowden appeared to be unfolding. Olafur Sigurvinsson, an Icelandic businessman, told reporters Thursday that he has a private jet ready to take Snowden to Iceland, a potential safe haven named by Snowden in interviews.
A spokesperson representing the Hong Kong Aviation Center, which handles private jet flights out of Hong Kong, did not comment on whether Snowden, or anyone on his behalf, had made plans to fly out.
“For privacy reason [sic], we do not disclose to external parties the identity of our passengers or information about their flight arrangement,” KK Yuen said in an e-mail.
Yuen also said that all passengers must go through immigration and customs checks. In other words, Snowden could have trouble leaving on a private jet without tipping off authorities.
A potentially drawn-out and complex legal process awaits the former contractor, who turned 30 on Friday, and the U.S. officials trying to remove him from Hong Kong.
If Snowden is arrested, he must be brought “as soon as practicable” before a Hong Kong judge, according to the extradition treaty. That judge will then decide whether he should be removed from Hong Kong under the terms of the treaty.
Among other things, the treaty requires that any criminal charges filed against Snowden must be both listed in the treaty and involve an offense that could land him in prison for more than a year in both the United States and Hong Kong.