UPDATE 6/23 1:00pm EST: Snowden has requested asylum in Ecuador, per Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Minister.

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A statement from Hong Kong’s government confirms that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has left the country.  A local news outlet reports that Snowden is bound for Cuba and Venezuela by way of Moscow, while Wikileaks is claiming that it has “assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum.”

(added — live feed from Russia Today — Update — which confirms Snowden has landed in Moscow)

The HKSAR government issued the following statement today:

Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.

The US Government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR Government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden. Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR Government has requested the US Government to provide additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government’s request can meet the relevant legal conditions. As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.

The HKSAR Government has already informed the US Government of Mr Snowden’s departure.

Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.

It is notable that the Hong Kong government’s statement makes direct reference to Snowden’s accusations against the US of hacking Hong Kong targets.

The South China Morning Post has provided more details on Snowden’s flight itinerary, indicating that he is expected to then fly from Moscow to Cuba, and then to Venezuela.

The 30-year-old left from Chep Lap Kok airport on a flight scheduled for 10.55am. He boarded Aeroflot Flight SU213, which is due to land at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport at 5.15pm local time (8.15pm Hong Kong time).

Russian news agencies Interfax and Itar-Tass reported Snowden is booked on a flight from Moscow to Cuba on Monday. Itar-Tass said Snowden would fly from Havana to Caracas, Venezuela.

“A passenger under that name will arrive in Moscow from Hong Kong today on flight SU213, and tomorrow, on June 24, he will fly to Havana on flight SU150,” the state news agency ITAR-Tass quoted a source at the airline as saying. “Also tomorrow, he will go to Caracas from Havana on a local flight.”

Wikileaks is claiming that it has assisted Snowden in securing political asylum, and has issued a statement indicating that Snowden requested its assistance to “secure his safety.”  It also said that Snowden is currently “being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.”

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange previously recommended that Snowden seek asylum in Latin America.

As The Guardian points out, “the 30-year-old had previously said he would stay in the city [Hong Kong] and fight for his freedom in the courts.”

It is unclear what caused Snowden to deviate from that plan, but one can only imagine that the circumstances placed Hong Kong (and China) in a difficult position.

From the LA Times:

Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said it was “highly likely” that Beijing authorities had instructed Hong Kong officials not to surrender Snowden.

“The decision was basically made in Beijing not to send him to the U.S.,” Lam said. “Hong Kong was seeking a politically expedient way out before the legal procedures started. What the Hong Kong government said is that they received Washington’s request but were seeking more info. But they haven’t gotten it. So the pretext was that they have no legal reason to detain him.”

“This is a sort of a clever way out for the Hong Kong government to avoid getting into a more difficult situation,” Lam added.

The situation is obviously a fluid one; Legal Insurrection will post updates as new information becomes available.