Edward Snowden

Could whistleblower Snowden fly out of Hong Kong?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

The US whistle-blower Edward Snowden would have a hard time flying out of Hong Kong to countries where he could evade the long arm of the US justice system.

The American Department of Justice has already said it has started a criminal investigation into Snowden's leaking of secret information earlier this week, which could mean a warrant for his arrest could be issued in the coming days.

Hong Kong, where he was last reported to be hiding, has an extradition treaty with the US, which barring an application for asylum, obliges the city to surrender him to American prosecutors.

Snowden has so far indicated his wish to seek asylum in Iceland, a country with a population of about 300,000, where he could only fly to by transferring in third countries - enabling his arrest in transit.

Hong Kong offers direct commercial flights to around 130 destinations, and Iceland is not one of them. 

There are also no direct flights from Hong Kong to Ecuador, the country which has offered political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for almost a year to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex charges.

Snowden should seek refuge in Latin America, the Wikileaks founder suggested to him in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old could rent a private jet from Hong Kong to Ecuador, if he has enough savings or outside support.

The cost of such a flight would range between HK$1.5 million to HK$3 million, two people working in the private aviation industry have told the South China Morning Post.

Snowden's annual salary amounted to HK$932,000 according to a statement by his last employer, defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. 

Cheaper private flights that stopped in Anchorage, Alaska, would take between 16.5 and 17 hours.

Flights circumventing US airspace could take up to 22 hours and require two separate crews, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity, wary of harming their reputation.

A person familiar with the industry said that companies providing business jets for hire would be wary of transporting a person wanted by the US for fear of harming their interests in the country. 

If Snowden opted for a commercial flight, he could chose between destinations in 10 countries that don't have an extradition treaty with the United States - including Kazakhstan and Russia.

The office of Russia's President Vladimir Putin has said on Tuesday that the country would be willing to consider a request for political asylum. 

Aeroflot, Russia's largest airline, charges around HK$9,060 for a one-way economy class flight to Moscow.