HONG KONG, June 23 (UPI) -- NSA leaker Edward Snowden was headed for Ecuador to claim asylum, his advisers said Sunday.
Sources told Russia's Interfax news service the accused U.S. intelligence leaker would fly on from Moscow to Cuba and then on to Venezuela. But the website WikiLeaks, which is assisting Snowden, issued a statement saying he "is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks."
A Russian Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Los Angeles Times Snowden was expected to remain in the transit area of the Moscow airport until a flight to Havana Monday.
But two passengers told the Times they saw a black car with red diplomatic license plates picking up some passengers from the flight's business class.
Snowden slipped out of Hong Kong Sunday with the apparent permission of local authorities and boarded a flight to Moscow; however, it appeared his arrival in the Russian capital was a layover on a journey to the Western Hemisphere.
He left Hong Kong a step ahead of U.S. authorities who this weekend filed formal espionage charges against the former National Security Agency contractor. Snowden leaked details of sophisticated NSA electronic monitoring programs, enraging both privacy advocates and national security officials.
The controversial Internet organization WikiLeaks said its legal experts were traveling with Snowden and assisted him in leaving Hong Kong
Hong Kong officials said Snowden skipped town before the paperwork required to have him detained was completed. U.S. officials countered Sunday that the hold-up was based on minor issues that were not enough to prevent Hong Kong from taking him into custody.
"They came back to us with a few questions late Friday and we were in the process of answering those questions," the official said. "We believe we were meeting those requirements. As far as the relationship with Hong Kong goes, this raises questions and we will continue to discuss with authorities there."
Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said in a written statement, "We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel."