Hong Kong did not assist Snowden's departure: Official

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's justice secretary said on Tuesday the city did not assist fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden in leaving the territory, but that incomplete paperwork prevented officials from issuing a provisional arrest warrant.

The United States said on Sunday it was "disappointed" by Hong Kong's "troubling" failure to arrest Mr Snowden before he fled the territory.

Mr Snowden, who embarrassed US President Barack Obama with his revelations of massive surveillance programmes, dramatically flew from Hong Kong bound for Moscow, despite Washington having requested his arrest and extradition.

The ex-CIA technician was holed up in the southern Chinese city where he issued a series of leaks on the NSA gathering phone call logs and Internet data since May 20, until his departure on Sunday.

"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," Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen told reporters.

"I can tell you in no uncertain term that we have not been deliberately delaying the progress, all along, we act fully in accordance to the law," he said.

He said that the US request for Hong Kong to produce a provisional arrest warrant was received on Saturday June 15, where the US charged Mr Snowden of with espionage, theft and conversion of government property.

Mr Yuen said he told US Attorney General Eric Holder on June 20 that the issue of Snowden was complicated and that Department of Justice staff needed time to handle it.

"On June 21 we sent them a list of questions...which identify the areas of substantive issues, both in relation to the charges, in relation to the question as to whether they could satisfy the dual-criminality requirement under the Hong Kong law as well as the question of evidential issues," Mr Yuen said.

Mr Yuen also said there were discrepencies and missing information in documents used to identify Snowden.

"On the diplomatic documents, James was used as the middle name, on the record upon entering the border, Joseph was used as the middle name, on the American court documents sent to us by the American Justice department, it only said Edward J Snowden," he said.

Hong Kong authorities also noticed that documents produced by the US did not show Mr Snowden's American passport number.

Mr Yuen said the US had not responded to the Department of Justice's questions up to the point of Mr Snowden's departure from Hong Kong on Sunday.

"Under Hong Kong law The Department of Justice has no possibility or legal grounds to request a Hong Kong judge to sign a provisional arrest warrant," he said.

China, which maintains influence over Hong Kong's government, called a US claim that it had facilitated the departure of former security contractor Edward Snowden from the city "groundless" on Tuesday, after Washington said Beijing had chosen to release him.

"It is unreasonable for the US to question Hong Kong's handling of affairs in accordance with law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing in Beijing, adding: "China cannot accept that."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.