• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 11:10am
Edward Snowden
NewsHong Kong

US failure to clarify Snowden papers tied HK's hands, says justice chief

Justice chief says US failure to clarify arrest request and to respond to snooping claims were among reasons why Snowden could not be held

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 5:30pm

Washington's failure to answer questions about cybersnooping in Hong Kong was part of the reason the city was unable to hold Edward Snowden, the justice minister said last night as he hit back at claims that local authorities stalled on arresting the American whistle-blower.

Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the lack of a response to the former National Security Agency contractor's claim of US hacking in the city and a failure by American authorities to clarify aspects of their request for an arrest left Hong Kong with no lawful grounds to detain Snowden.

Without the information, there was "no legal basis to ask the court to issue a warrant for the provisional arrest", Yuen said. "Without the warrant of arrest, the Hong Kong government had no legal basis to restrict or to stop Mr Snowden from leaving."

Despite Snowden's departure, Yuen said Hong Kong still required a "comprehensive and satisfactory" reply from the US on the cybersnooping accusation.

"Our stance is very clear, we had no deliberate intention whatsoever to free Mr Snowden or to delay the US request for arrest," Yuen said. "All the way, we were strictly following Hong Kong law and our treaty with the US, as well as relying on the rule of law. All the way we had communicated with the US. But up to this moment, the US still has yet to reply to us with the information we requested last Friday."

Yuen said information on cyberhacking would have been material in deciding whether to deport Snowden as it may reveal whether the offences he was accused of were "political" in nature. Hong Kong's treaty with the US does not allow extradition when an offence is "political".

Yuen said certain other requirements of the extradition treaty and the city's Fugitive Offenders Ordinance were not met.

Yuen confirmed the government had received the request by the US for the provisional arrest of Snowden, but not for his surrender, on the afternoon of Saturday, June 15. The document sent to the local authorities listed the offences as unauthorised communication of national defence information, wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person and theft of government property.

The Department of Justice had studied the charges to consider whether they met legal requirements.

On Thursday, Yuen spoke to US Attorney General Eric Holder, telling him the city would strictly comply with its own law and the 1996 treaty with the US. Yuen also described the case as complicated, and said his department would need time to manage it.

The next day, Yuen said, Hong Kong asked the US whether the offences it identified were listed in the treaty and asked Washington what evidence it intended to rely on to charge Snowden. He warned a lack of vital information would have legal consequences.

Confusion about Snowden's middle name also caused concern, Yuen said. Hong Kong immigration had the name "Joseph", US documents referred to "James", while a court document mentioned only "J". "We believe his name needed to be clarified or it would create legal problems," he said. The US also failed to provide his passport number. "In our view, passport numbers are key information to identify a person."

Earlier, White House spokesman Jay Carney hit out at Hong Kong's failure to hold Snowden.

"With regards to … the Chinese government, we are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official," he said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse



Justice Minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung's account of his negotiations with Washington. All times are Hong Kong time.

June 15, afternoon: Hong Kong receives a US request for the provisional arrest of Edward Snowden

June 17: Department of Justice e-mails US authorities stating that Hong Kong is preparing a list of inquiries to seek clarification about the request for Snowden's arrest

Wednesday: US Attorney General Eric Holder attempts to contact Secretary for Justice Yuen

Thursday morning: Yuen speaks to Holder

Friday morning: Through the Security Bureau, the government writes to the US government requesting clarification about Snowden's allegations of US snooping on computers in Hong Kong

Friday afternoon: Department of Justice contacts US Justice Department to seek additional information on its request for a provisional arrest

Sunday: Snowden leaves town




Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

funny how US thinks everyone has to cooperate with them. when was the last time US handed over someone the Chinese thought was a high-profile traitor?
this is actually a serious question cause I don't know but I would guess the answer is close to "never".
hard times !
Our secretary for justice has every reason to study the request of Obama administration (which never came formally) to have Mr.Snowden extradited to the States since our request of the US government to explain her cyberspying on our computers and those intrusions into our Internet Exchange at Chinese Univ.has never been answered by the Obama administration (up till now ).No one has the obligation to co-operate with a THIEF who stole your properties ! Right ? And no one with sense and conscience will betary the one who informed you that your house has been broken into (though nothing valuable might be stolen !) Right ? The US govenment led by this black president is bullying Hong Kong, and maybe China and Russia as well !
spare the fake outrage
all part of their game to avoid answering why they were spying on HONG KONG
yes hong kong, that hotbed of terrorist activity
Full marks to our SfJ and his team. If we can be sure they take the same approach when pressured by Beijing (directly or indirectly) in upholding Hong Kong's autonomous legal interests, we are in good hands.
hard times !
Our secretary for justice,Mr.Yuen has done an excellent job by defying the claims (rough and too simple, sometimes naive as said by former chairman Jiang) of the Obama government to extradit Smowden who was just an ordinary traveller from Hawaii and had committed no crimes here during his over-a-month stay.Instead he spent quite a lot by staying at our 4-star hotel,the Mira owned by the Henderson Properties (the second richest family in town).He left with a valid passport as our Immigration Department had never been notified that his passport had been revoked.He could disclose his secrets here to the media since our beloved Hong Kong allows freedom of speech and expression plus practises 'rule of law'-------our cops won't exercise laws of another nation (no matter how powerful she maybe) but our own's only.As the extradition request was not formally made and the documents sent here were found to be rough and incomplete---even Snowden's name carried three versions and his passport number was not supplied.Besides,as the charges against him carried the espionage nature, the case had to be handled by Beijing.How could the US blame our tiny Hong Kong and its weak government for the safe leave of his countryman (though now a most wanted fugitve) ?
it's disingenuous of USA to focus the attention on Snowden "getting away" and not having to answer the questions "have you been spying on HK and China institutions".
Nice deflection of attention....
Disingenuous b.s. from a trained barrister. It took your department 6 days to come up with those questions? Why couldn't you give Holder a heads up when you spoke to him the day before instead of giving him the impression you'd cooperate fully? The answer is obvious. By waiting until Friday to pose your questions you maximize your chances of creating an excuse to let Snowden escape. If you really wanted to cooperate with the U.S. you could have done so. This was deliberate obfuscation. You wanted this hot potato off the Chinese plate.
Indeed - no sarcasm detected there... no conditional incompetence at all...
The U.S. news media has muddied the water so bad. like it was the kid's fault that the U.S. Was spying on the whole world. I hope he lived happily ever after.
It would be interesting to poll Hong Kong info security managers to see where most of the threat to Hong Kong networks has come over the past 5 years. It would most likely be North of the SAR border.
If the HK Government was so concerned about hacking, why encourage Snowden to leave?
What is then the status of "one country, two systems"?
Also how will this impact Hong Kong's extradition of triads or other criminals in the future from the US?



SCMP.com Account