Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has hit back at the United States for claiming Hong Kong made a bad call in allowing whistle-blower Edward Snowden to leave.
Speaking for the first time since Snowden arrived here on May 20 and began disclosing details of US phone and internet surveillance programs, Yuen pointed to contradictory information the Americans provided in asking SAR authorities to arrest the runaway security analyst, which was meant to lead to extraditing him on spying charges.
The flaws, Yuen spelled out yesterday, included different middle names for Snowden. Yuen said the US request for a provisional arrest warrant to be issued identified Edward James Snowden, while the immigration record showed Edward Joseph Snowden arriving here. Yet a US court document referred to Edward J Snowden. There was also a lack of a passport number for Snowden.
Yuen's refutation came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed disappointment that SAR authorities allowed 30-year-old Snowden to fly to Moscow on Sunday.
That followed on from a White House official claiming it was a deliberate choice by Hong Kong to release Snowden.
"We neither deliberately allowed Snowden to leave nor did we delay handling his case," Yuen said. "Hong Kong had no legal ground to bar or stop Snowden from leaving."
The US government asked Hong Kong to issue a warrant on June 15 after Snowden, who worked in Hawaii for a National Security Agency contractor, was charged in the United States with theft of government property and leaks of national defense and confidential intelligence information.
The Department of Justice notified US officials on June 17 that a list of questions was being prepared as clarifications were needed, Yuen said.
Hong Kong also wanted more details of the charges and evidence against Snowden to make sure it was not a political case.
Additionally, Yuen spoke to US Attorney General Eric Holder by phone. "The details we wanted were absolutely necessary if we were to detain Snowden," Yuen declared.
"As the US government had failed to provide the information by the time Snowden left Hong Kong, it was impossible for the Department of Justice to apply to a court for a temporary warrant of arrest. In fact, even at this time, the US government has still not provided the details we asked for."
American authorities also failed to reply to a Security Bureau question asking whether the US conducted surveillance programs in Hong Kong.
Also yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the Snowden saga was not over even though he had left Hong Kong.
Officials were trying to explain the SAR's position to the Americans, Leung said, and they were also seeking assurances about claims of US hacking of computers here.
"While we attach great importance to Hong Kong-US relations, it's also necessary to attach importance to Hong Kong's interests," Leung said.
On that, the government had been monitoring international media to check if the SAR's image has been affected.
But one result was that the international community had finally realized Hong Kong is part of China but enjoys a high degree of autonomy, Leung said.
He believed, in fact, that Hong Kong's image abroad has been enhanced by being in the international spotlight.