NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador hours after leaving Hong Kong amid US attempt to extradite him to face espionage charges.
Snowden, who has revealed details of vast spying programmes by the US, flew from the Chinese territory to Moscow on Sunday and was reported to be meeting the Ecuadorean ambassador in the Russian capital after applying for asylum.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, earlier wrote on Twitter that Snowden had applied for asylum. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently sheltering in Ecuador’s embassy in London as he fights extradition to Sweden on s*x assault charges.
In a statement, WikiLeaks said: “Mr Snowden … is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks.
The application came days after Washington charged him with spying and espionage following his leak to western newspapers of the Prism spying programme run by his former employer, the National Security Agency. US authorities were attempting to have him extradited from Hong Kong, where he fled shortly before the leaks were revealed.
A statement by Hong Kong authorities earlier on Sunday said it had “not obtained adequate information” to handle a provisional arrest warrant for Snowden issued by the US, but from all indications he was going to be extradited at US’s instance if he remained in Hong Kong.
The former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but retains an independent legal system and its own extradition laws.
A government spokesman also said that Snowden had left voluntarily. He flew out of Hong Kong on Sunday morning on board Aeroflot SU213 flight, a Chinese newspaper said.
Further leaks by Snowden revealed the US had hacked Hong Kong and Chinese institutions.
A government statement said Hong Kong had written to the US “requesting clarification” of earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies.
China’s Xinhua news agency, referring to Snowden’s accusations about the hacking of Chinese targets, said they were “clearly troubling signs”.
It added: “They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”
Snowden also provided documents to the Guardian newspaper that showed British spies were obtaining the contents of 600 million private communications a day by tapping the world’s network of fibre-optic cables. They also passed the information to their US counterparts.
The intercepts include emails, telephone calls, Google searches and Facebook updates. Britain has not responded to the accusations.