Hiding in pricey Hong Kong may drain US whistleblower’s funds
Edward Snowden is no Jason Bourne on the run. As a defence contractor who enjoyed a “comfortable life” and six-figure salary, his hideout was not going to be some dingy love motel in Mong Kok’s Shanghai Street.
Snowden arrived on May 20 and stayed at The Mira Hong Kong on Kowloon’s bustling Nathan Road for a total of 21 nights before “checking out” on Monday afternoon. He claims to have picked the city as a hideaway because of its reputation for freedom and free speech.
But what was life really like for the most sought-after man in the world during his three weeks holed up at a futuristic-themed five-star hotel near Kowloon Park? Not too bad at all, actually. First, each room comes with free Wi-fi, an “ultra-smart” infotainment system, Arne Jacobsen Egg Chairs and a marble bath.
But the bills in one of the world’s most expensive cities might explain why – says a journalist from The Guardian, Ewen MacAskill, one of those who broke the story of US government surveillance – Snowden is close to maxing out his credit cards.
According to the Mira, the rate for a prepaid standard room for a long stay is about HK$2,000 per night on non-peak-season weekdays. Having not booked through a tour agent or operator, his three-week bill is estimated by the Post at HK$44,000. Including a 10 per cent service charge would bring the total room tab to HK$48,400. That is if he did not feel like paying the extra HK$130 per day for the breakfast buffet.
Snowden told The Guardian he had left the room “about three times” and mostly used room service.
A downloadable menu from Yamm, the hotel’s main restaurant prices a plain Caesar salad at HK$155 and a club sandwich at HK$178. The only taste of his home state, the Hawaiian burger, would cost HK$250. Three meals a day would have cost at least HK$650 a day, including service charges – about HK$14,300. This would have upped the bill to HK$58,300.
This is hardly dents the wallet for a man who allegedly made US$120,000 a year. But on the run and with limited funds, it is hard to say what will bleed him dry first – the pressure, the press pack or the city’s exorbitant prices.
And it could get worse. If he succeeds in applying for refugee status, Snowden would be entitled to a maximum of HK$1,200 a month for accommodation, education and medical bills, HK$120 for household bills, a food handout every 10 days, and just HK$1,500 per month for everything else.
Additional reporting by Joyce Ng