The United States has asked Hong Kong to detain Edward Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant after filing a sealed criminal complaint alleging espionage, theft, and conversion of government property. As The Washington Post reports, the complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia – where Snowden’s former employer Booz Allen is headquartered:
- *U.S. CHARGES SNOWDEN IN SEALED COMPLAINT IN NSA LEAK, POST SAYS
- *U.S. SAID TO CHARGE SNOWDEN IN NSA SURVEILLANCE DISCLOSURES
While there was really little doubt that the Justice Department would seek to prosecute Snowden over the leaks, the district chosen, according to WaPo, has a long track-record of prosecuting cases with national security implications; and while Honk Kong does have an extradition treaty with the US, there are exceptions for political offenses.
Via The Washington Post,
Justice Department officials had already said that a criminal investigation of Snowden was underway and was being run out of the FBI’s Washington field office in conjunction with lawyers from the department’s National Security Division.
By filing a criminal complaint, prosecutors have a legal basis to make the request of the authorities in Hong Kong. Prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment, probably also under seal, and can then move to have Snowden extradited from Hong Kong for trial in the United States.
Snowden, however, can fight the extradition effort in the courts in Hong Kong. Any battle is likely to reach Hong Kong’s highest court and could last many months, lawyers in the United States and Hong Kong said.
The United States has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and U.S. officials said cooperation with the Chinese territory, which enjoys some autonomy from Beijing, has been good in previous cases.
The treaty, however, has an exception for political offenses, and espionage has traditionally been treated as a political offense.
The chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, said last week that the city’s government would follow existing law if and when the U.S. government requested help.
“When the relevant mechanism is activated, the Hong Kong [Special Administrative Region] Government will handle the case of Mr. Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong,” Leung said in a statement.