Flight SU150 from Moscow arrives in Cuba without Edward Snowden - but Ecuador confirms NSA whistleblower is seeking asylum

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Julian Assange says Snowden is 'in a safe place and his spirits are high'

At Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Monday, Edward Snowden slipped through the net of the world’s media like the invisible man, with the fugitive whistleblower a no-show for the flight he was expected to take to Havana, Cuba. Ecuador is apparently the American’s final destination, with the country’s Foreign Minister confirming that Mr Snowden has lodged an application for political asylum. How he plans to reach the country remains a mystery.

With the 2pm departure time drawing near there was a furious scramble as journalists were instructed not to film around the departure gate, with some even having footage forcibly wiped from their cameras. But despite the circus there was no sign of the former National Security Agency contractor. Eventually, the plane’s doors closed and the dozens of Russian and international journalists already on board realised that seat 17A was empty and they were travelling to Havana without the man they had all been chasing. Sources at the airport thereafter gave a series of conflicting updates to Russian news agencies: Mr Snowden had already left the country; Mr Snowden was still in the hotel; Mr Snowden was booked on a later Aeroflot flight to Cuba.

Half a day on, when SU150 landed in Havana, there was still no sign of the 30-year-old. The flight crew were also said to have denied Mr Snowden's presence on the aircraft.  

Mr Snowden’s whereabouts have created diplomatic tension alongside the intrigue, after Washington revoked his passport after he left Hong Kong. A White House spokesman said the US expected Russia to send him back, and registered strong objections with China and Hong Kong for letting him go. “We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official,” Jay Carney said. “This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship,” he said.

During a trade mission to India yesterday US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We don’t know, specifically, where [Snowden] may head... It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they [Russia and China] had adequate notice, and … they made the decision wilfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law.” Russian officials said that after the recent passage of the Magnitsky Act, which bans certain Russian officials from entry to the US, Moscow was in no mood to co-operate.

A New York Times report quoted an unnamed source saying that Mr Snowden had been staying in a government-owned apartment in Hong Kong before he fled. He had apparently been compelled to seek sanctuary in the safe house after journalists found out which hotel he had been staying in. Hong Kong lawmaker Albert Ho said that he believed Beijing was behind the decision to allow Mr Snowden to fly out, claiming that a Chinese government intermediary called Mr Snowden and told him to leave, guaranteeing him safe passage. As the hours passed yesterday some began to question whether Mr Snowden was in Moscow at all. But his presence was later confirmed by Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, who gave a news conference during a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam.

“As we all know, he arrived in Russia,” he said, after reading out the whistleblower’s asylum application. He declined to say where Mr Snowden was but confirmed that his application had not yet been ruled on. He did, however, use the occasion to deliver a stinging critique of US foreign policy and the surveillance techniques which Mr Snowden uncovered. “In the last few days the word ‘treason’ has been mentioned,” Mr Patino said. “But is it the people who have been betrayed, or certain elites?”

In his asylum application Mr Snowden’s compares himself to WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning and maintains that he would not receive “humane treatment” prior to any US trial, claiming that he could be sentenced to death. He has been charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence in relation to his leaks of NSA material, each of which carries a potential 10-year sentence.

Ecuador has already given asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is in the country’s London Embassy. Mr Assange, whose anti-secrecy group has helped Mr Snowden with his transit plans and legal assistance, said last night that Mr Snowden was in “good health” in a safe place, but again declined to say where.

Mr Assange staged a conference call, in which he updated the world on what he knows of Snowden's situation. Sarah Harrison, who works for Wikileaks, is thought to be travelling with the fugitive.

Assange said that the organisation had paid Snowden's travel and living expenses since he left Hong Kong.

He said: "We are aware of where Edward Snowden is. He is in a safe place and his spirits are high. Due to the bellicose threats coming from the US administration we cannot go into further detail at this time.

"In relation to Hong Kong Mr Snowden was supplied with a refugee document of passage by the Ecuadoran government."

When asked if Snowden had been questioned by the Chinese authorities before leaving Hong Kong, Assange said: “As far as I am aware that is false.”

He added that there was no communication between Snowden and Russian officials before he departed from Hong Kong.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions