The news came amid reports that Chinese officials, concerned at the stress a long extradition battle might place on its already tense relations with Washington, wished to wash their hands of the matter by getting the fugitive to leave Hong Kong, which he did over the weekend, arriving Sunday in Moscow.
Lawyer Albert Ho said Mr. Snowden was approached last week by someone claiming to represent the government of Hong Kong, who told him he should leave and that the island’s authorities would not stop him if he did, despite the revocation of his passport and a pending extradition request by U.S. authorities.
Mr. Ho’s comments were reported by Reuters and broadcast by the BBC.
Mr. Ho, who is also a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council from a political party critical of Beijing, said the middleman was likely acting on behalf of China, rather than Hong Kong.
Communist authorities “used someone behind the scenes to get Snowden to leave. And the Hong Kong government didn’t have much of a role. Its role was to receive instructions to not stop him at the airport,” Mr. Ho told Reuters.
Mr. Ho, an elected legislator from Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, told reporters he was approached by Snowden last week, and that the self-proclaimed whistleblower had sought assurances from the Hong Kong government about whether he could leave the city if he chose to do so.
After Mr. Snowden arrived Sunday at the international transit lounge of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport, Russian authorities said he had not entered the country and that they had no grounds to arrest him, Interfax news agency reported.
The agency cited a “well-informed Moscow source.”
“Snowden has not committed any crimes in the territory of Russia. Neither have Russian law enforcement bodies received any instructions to detain him along Interpol lines,” Interfax quoted the source as saying. “Thus, we have no grounds for detaining this transit passenger.”
The latest twist in the global cat and mouse game being played by Mr. Snowden as he attempts to evade apprehension by U.S. authorities brought angry criticism response from some U.S. officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is “aiding and abetting Snowden’s escape,” charged New York Democratic Sen. Chuck SchumerSunday, accusing Mr. Putin being “eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States.”
“That’s not how allies should treat one another, Mr. Schumer thundered, “And I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship.”
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that there would be diplomatic consequences for countries that facilitated or allowed Mr. Snowden’s onward travel.
“It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they [Russia and China] had adequate notice [of Mr. Snowden’s travel plans], and notwithstanding that, they make the decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law,” he said in India.
If so, “There would be, without any question, some effect and impact on the [U.S.] relationship [with those countries] and consequences [for them],” he added.
Reuters, citing an unnamed “source in Beijing who has direct knowledge of the case,” reported that China had been concerned about how a long-drawn out legal battle in the former British colony of Hong Kong might stress its already complex relations with the United States.