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Name mix-up in extradition docs: Hong Kong denies assisting Snowden’s departure

Name mix-up in extradition docs: Hong Kong denies assisting Snowden’s departure
Hong Kong’s Justice Secretary said the US confused Snowden’s middle name, lacked his passport number in a request for his arrest and failed to provide evidence for charges, preventing HK officials from detaining the leaker before he left the territory.

The Hong Kong government did not assist Edward Snowden, the man who revealed the top-secret NSA surveillance program PRISM, in leaving the territory, but incomplete paperwork prevented officials from issuing a provisional arrest warrant, Hong Kong Justice secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said on Tuesday, according to the South China Morning Post.

The US referred to the former CIA employee and NSA contractor’s middle name as ‘James’, however the Hong Kong Immigration Department had the name ‘Joseph’, Yuen said. The application also lacked Snowden’s passport number, so there was ‘no legal basis’ to prevent him from leaving Hong Kong.

“Therefore, it was impossible and there was no legal basis under Hong Kong law for the Department of Justice to ask a Hong Kong judge to sign off on a provisional arrest warrant,” Yuen said adding  “[Thus] there then was no legal basis to restrict or ban Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman told reporters Hong Kong officials claimed to be confused on a point of Snowden’s middle name, using that as a pretext for failing to act on the US extradition request.

The US said Sunday it was “disappointed” by Hong Kong’s “troubling”  failure to detain the man responsible for the biggest leak of US intelligence in history, before he fled the territory on Saturday. The White House has insisted that the personal information in the paperwork of the leaker the US submitted to Hong Kong was correct.

The Hong Kong government on June 15 received the US request to detain Snowden, who also revealed US cyber spying on China. It named three charges including unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, unauthorized disclosure of intelligence and stealing state property.

In this file picture taken on June 13, 2013 protesters shout slogans in support of former US spy Edward Snowden as they march to the US consulate in Hong Kong. (AFP Photo)

Yuen said that the US failed to clarify the first two charges and did not provide any evidence for the arrest, rejecting suggestions that Hong Kong had been deliberately stalling for time.

“We had not been deliberately delaying the process. All along, we have acted in full accordance with the law,” Yuen said.

According to the extradition treaty between the two countries, the HK officials had no authority to honor the USA’s extradition request due to lack of evidence under the first two charges.

The justice secretary noted that he had requested information from the US on Thursday and the US government has not responded to the request.

"Until the minute of Snowden's departure, the US government had not yet replied to our requests for clarification," he noted. "Any suggestion that we have been deliberately letting Mr Snowden go away or to do any other things to obstruct the normal operation is totally untrue."

Hong Kong had not yet received a reply from the US to this request, as of Tuesday, said the South China Morning Post.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden is reportedly in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.