US leaker stayed at Russia's Hong Kong consulate

MOSCOW - Edward Snowden, the US intelligence leaker who was granted asylum in Russia, contacted Russian officials before he flew to Moscow and spent several days at the country's diplomatic mission in Hong Kong, a newspaper said Monday.

Kommersant, citing several informed sources, also said the former US National Security Agency contractor did not board a flight to Cuba from Moscow as planned because Havana, under pressure from Washington, said it would not allow the plane to land.

Kommersant, citing a source close to Snowden, said he had spent several days at the Russian general consulate in Hong Kong before boarding an Aeroflot flight to Moscow in late June.

A Western source confirmed the information to the newspaper, adding that the West thought it was possible that Russian authorities had invited Snowden to come to Russia.

It is likely that "Russians themselves invited Snowden, passing the invitation on to him via the Chinese who were happy to get rid of him," the Western source was quoted as saying.

A source in the Russian government confirmed to Kommersant that Snowden was at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong for two days until he left for Moscow.

But the source said Snowden had turned up uninvited, adding that he had planned to fly to Latin America via Moscow and asked for help, citing international conventions on the rights of refugees.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP at the time that Moscow was not aware of Snowden's plans to travel to Russia.

Snowden's Hong Kong-based legal adviser Albert Ho said he could not confirm that the leaker had spent time at the Russian consulate.

"All I can say is that I have absolutely no idea about this," Ho said. "I was only his legal adviser and was not fully involved in his dealings. "

Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23 but did not board a flight to Cuba the next day despite having a reservation.

He ended up spending more than a month in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow until Russia gave him temporary asylum.

The move led to a new crisis in ties between Moscow and Washington. Putin has said Snowden arrived in Russia uninvited and would leave as soon as possible.

Snowden had been widely expected to take the flight to Havana but did not appear in highly mysterious circumstances, with his absence becoming apparent after the plane full of journalists took off.

Citing several sources, Kommersant said Cuba had made the decision not to allow his plane to land under pressure from the United States but did not give further details.