MOSCOW (AFP) - US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who has been holed up in a Moscow airport for more than two weeks, has agreed to an offer of political asylum from Venezuela, a top pro-Kremlin lawmaker said on Tuesday.
"As was expected, Snowden agreed to (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro's offer of political asylum," Mr Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian Lower House of Parliament's international affairs committee, said on Twitter. “Apparently, this option looked like the most reliable one to Snowden.”
The announcement remained on his Twitter feed for around half an hour before it was removed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman declined to comment, saying all questions should be directed to Mr Pushkov. “Turn to them for all the questions,” Mr Dmitry Peskov said tersely.
After removing his original post, Mr Pushkov said in a separate message that he learned of the most recent development around Snowden from a news report on Russian state television channel Vesti 24. He later rephrased his original message, saying Snowden had agreed to asylum in Venezula, according to a Vesti 24 report.
“Venezuela finally received an answer from the CIA former agent,” a news report on the channel’s website said earlier on Tuesday. “The President of the Latin American country, Nicolas Maduro, received an official political asylum request from Edward Snowden,” said the channel.
On Monday, Mr Maduro called on Snowden to decide if he wanted to fly to Caracas.
“We have received the asylum request letter,” Mr Maduro told reporters in Caracas after he offered the 30-year-old former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor asylum along with the leaders of Bolivia and Nicaragua.
“He will have to decide when he flies, if he finally wants to fly here,” Mr Maduro said. He called the offers from the three Latin American nations “collective humanitarian political asylum”.
It remains unclear how the world’s most famous refugee would be able to leave the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been marooned without valid documents since he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23. There are no direct flights between Moscow and Caracas. The quickest way to get to Venezuela would be to fly via Havana.
A spokesman for Russian national carrier Aeroflot, Ms Irina Danenberg, said she was not aware if Snowden had been on the flight to Havana that left Moscow earlier Tuesday. “I have no clue,” she said.
There are no direct flights to Havana from Moscow on Wednesday.
Mr Pushkov has been a vocal commentator of the Snowden affair, saying earlier that Venezuela was “possibly his last chance to receive political asylum”.