Snowden has not yet accepted Venezuela asylum, WikiLeaks says
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from video during an interview by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/Courtesy of The GuardianThe WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website said Tuesday that fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden had not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela as was claimed by a top Russian lawmaker in a Twitter posting that was later deleted.
Pro-Kremlin lawmaker Alexei Pushkov sparked confusion when he tweeted Tuesday that Snowden had agreed to an offer from Caracas. He deleted the posting after about 30 minutes.
"Edward Snowden has not yet formally accepted asylum in Venezuela. The Russian lawmaker concerned has deleted the tweet," WikiLeaks said on its Twitter account.
Pushkov does not officially speak for the Russian government but has close Kremlin connections and is believed to relay views similar to those of President Vladimir Putin.
The lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee chief said that "apparently this (Venezuelan) option looked like the most reliable one to Snowden." Putin's spokesman declined to comment, saying all questions should be directed to Pushkov.
After removing his original post, Pushkov said in a separate message that he had learnt of the most recent development around Snowden from a news report on Russian state television channel Vesti 24. He later rephrased his original message, saying Snowden had agreed to asylum in Venezuela, according to a Vesti 24 report.
"Venezuela finally received an answer from the CIA former agent," a news report on the channel's website said earlier Tuesday.
"The President of the Latin American country, Nicolas Maduro, received an official political asylum request from Edward Snowden," said the channel.
On Monday, Maduro called on Snowden to decide if he wanted to fly to Caracas.
"We have received the asylum request letter," Maduro told reporters in Caracas after he offered the 30-year-old former National Security Agency contractor asylum along with the leaders of Bolivia and Nicaragua.
"He will have to decide when he flies, if he finally wants to fly here," Maduro said. He called the offers from the three Latin American nations "collective humanitarian political asylum." It remains unclear how the world's most famous refugee would be able to leave the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport, where he has been marooned without valid documents since he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23.
There are no direct flights between Moscow and Caracas. The quickest way to get to Venezuela would be to fly via Havana. A spokeswoman for Russian national carrier Aeroflot, Irina Danenberg, said she was not aware if Snowden had been on the flight to Havana that left Moscow earlier Tuesday. "I have no clue," she said.
There are no direct flights to Havana from Moscow on Wednesday.
Venezuela's foreign ministry has also made clear that it has not made any contact with Snowden since Maduro's invitation.
That makes it uncertain just how much currency a verbal commitment from Maduro has with Russian authorities who are seeking clear documented evidence of Snowden having a legal future destination point.
Snowden never boarded his plane out of Moscow for Cuba on June 24 for unexplained reasons.
Analysts said it was likely that he was simply not allowed to board by the Russians because he had no valid transit papers after his US travel passport had been revoked.
Neither do countries such as Venezuela have consular sections in Sheremetyevo that could issue Snowden with the required papers.
Pushkov has been a vocal commentator of the Snowden affair, saying earlier that Venezuela was "possibly his last chance to receive political asylum." Meanwhile Brazil on Tuesday turned down an asylum request from Snowden.
"We will not grant asylum," to the US fugitive, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said after talks with his Uruguayan counterpart Luis Almagro in Brasilia.
In apparent limbo in Moscow, Snowden has applied for asylum in 27 countries as he tries to evade American justice for disclosing a vast program of US worldwide electronic surveillance.